Pain… should you work through it?

Check back often for new questions! Thanks to all the people who wrote in with appreciation for the podcast. I loved reading all your kind words!

I have a question about dancing while in pain. I hear such different opinions from different people. My daughter’s dance teachers will absolutely not let them dance if in any pain at all. She has them sit out. Yet, my daughters friend who has a different teacher is told to push through the pain, toughen up and keep going. I say this could cause further damage and they could be out for longer. I have seen other dancers dance at shows when they could barely walk due to muscle pulls. I think my daughters teachers are right and I’d personally never allow my daughter to dance in pain, but what is your professional opinion?
Thanks, Eileen

I agree with you Eileen. When we get young dancers believing that pain is just a part of dancing – we are doing them a huge disservice and setting them up for injuries. You may want to read my article posted on the website (under articles, a new section for me) on ‘Soreness versus Pain’.

Let’s take a closer look at what pain really is. When a dancer injures strains a muscle, breaks a bone, etc. that is called nociceptive pain. The International Association for the Study of Pain defines nociceptive pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.” There is also neuropathic pain which is pain that results from an injury or problem in the nervous system. We aren’t going to talk about that type of pain – most dancer’s nervous systems are working just fine – and for that we need to be grateful!

When dancers hurt or injure themselves the nerves send a message to the brain. They are doing their job by informing command central that there has been some damage to the tissues. Some times the brain sends back a messages such as ‘get out of there fast!’, for example, when we accidentally get too close to a hot stove, our hand’s response is to jump away from the danger.

Pain can be dull or aching rather than sharp. The pain is still a message from our brain that we need to be careful – it keeps us from injuring the muscle or joint further. When we appropriately attend to the pain through a variety of methods, ice, changing our technique, rest, etc. the pain lessens because the tissues are healing. When a dancer keeps going in spite of the pain they run a very real risk of creating a chronic injury that may ultimately take them out of dancing for a much longer period of time.

I know how challenging it can be to translate our body’s messages – from dancing and doing gymnastics myself, and teaching for the past (gulp) 30 years! It takes time and awareness to learn what is the soreness of a newly activated muscle is compared to the strain of tendonitis. This is part of the dancer’s education if they continue dance for any length of time.

And – there are always ways to work with pain besides ‘ignoring’ it! Sometimes an adjustment in alignment or turnout can immediately take the painful stress away. That would be good information, yes?

Sometimes resting for a day while stretching and icing can do wonders. Sometimes it takes a physician or physical therapist to help decipher what the pain message is.

My message to dancers? Learn to listen. To your body’s physical messages, as well as to your emotional responses and intuitions. Don’t freak out when you start to feel discomfort – but instead ask yourself with real curiousity – hmmm.. I wonder what this means? Do I need more sleep? Need to eat better? Stretch more? And so on..

Happy holidays to you all!


“Education is the key to injury prevention”

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