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Recovering from injury

I am a 15 year old ballet student who hopes to pursue a career in dance. Right now I have an achilles tendon injury that requires passive healing, a lot of physical therapy and may take many months to heal. I have been off of dance for about 2 months now, and I’m having a very hard time coping with this rest period. Going from 15 hours of ballet a week to none has put me in a kind of “dance withdrawal.”. I am trying to keep in shape, but there is really no physical activity that compares to ballet for me, and I have a hard time finding the motivation to go to the gym. Do you have any reconmendations for keeping in physical shape (flexibility, strength, balance, core work, etc.) and also in a good mental state during periods of injury rehabilitation?

Thank you so much, your blog is a wonderful resource.

-Jackie B.

I’m so sorry to hear about your Achilles tendon injury. It is especially rough for someone like you who is used to being so active. I know your ankle is being taken care of with going to physical therapy, so we’ll focus on the right of your body ‘s well being.

I’d like you to first focus on the perspective that this is a good cross training opportunity for you. How is your cardiovascular strength? What about your upper body? That is an area that many women could improve – especially in these days of extreme athleticism and using your arms for support in contemporary choreography.

Those 2 areas along with core work with theraband or foam roller could easily be focused on during your rehab – even without going to the gym☺ (I don’t like the gym atmosphere and also prefer working out at home) I like using the kettle bell for my cardio. It’s amazing how much you work within just a minute. It’s a weight that has a handle on top and you swing it for between a minute and 2 minutes (I started at 30 secs) and then rest, walking around for a few minutes in between. You are doing interval training with this. Cardiovascular health is about the ability of your body to recover from stress.

I found a kettle bell demo on youtube that is better than most – although I will say that I do not ‘snap’ my knees or suggest that my dancers do as she is showing on this video. Bring them to straight, using the gluts and engaging the abdominals as you straighten your legs – but do it without snapping. Here’s the youtube link so you know what I’m talking about.

This time off from dance is a great time to be focusing on virtual rehearsals – using visualization to set new pathways from the brain to the muscles.

I’d like to tell you a fascinating story about Marilyn King, who was a two-time Olympic athlete and later a coach at the University of California. Her story beautifully demonstrates the power of mental rehearsing. She made the 1972 pentathlon team and placed 13th in the 1976 Olympics. She was determined to do even better at the 1980 Olympics and gave herself all of 1979 to train for the trials that would happen in the spring of 1980.

In November 1979, she was in a head-on car accident and suffered a severe back injury. Her friends and physicians felt her chances for competing in the Olympics had come to an end. She spent four months in bed, a daunting setback for anyone training for a physical competition. During those long months, Marilyn was determined to continue training and working in the only way she could, which was in her head. She went through every event in her minds eye and watched endless hours of the world’s best pentathlon athletes competing. Sometimes she watched them frame-by-frame.

When she was able to walk again, she went to the track and continued to train by envisioning herself going through each event successfully.

When it came time for the trials, she was better enough to compete and put herself through five grueling events—without having months of physical preparation, as the rest of the athletes had. She described moving almost as if in a dream, as she had rehearsed it so many times in her head during the past months. She placed second in the trials and went to the Olympics that summer.

Inspiring story, yes? She had a strong desire, focused only on what she wanted – cultivated by an emotional attitude that supported success—and took the actions she knew would optimize her performance, physically training when she was able and mentally training when she was not.

Elite athletes have long known about the power of mental rehearsing. Musicians and dancers are beginning to be more aware of the body/brain connection to their performance.

Watch the videos of your favorite dancers, put music on and go through barre, or other warm-ups… in your mind’s eye – not in real time. Imagine how good you are going to feel when you are back in class – and feel that way now!

What I know about healing is those who are able to maintain a positive attitude, imagining the best coming out of the situation, rather than the worst, are often the ones who heal the quickest as well.

Hope that helps – and best wishes for a speedy recovery!

Longer Leg & Plantar Fasciitis

Greetings!
I’m sending this from the beautiful TCU campus where I have been teaching an intensive course this week to the dance dept. There is nothing like teaching to a group of students who are eager and avid to learn all they can to improve their technique. And an extra perk is the Texas sun and warmth – It’s going to be hard to go back to Ohio weather!

Quick reminder that registration for Lisa Howell’s Perfect Pointe Workshops ends today. Register at http://theballetblog.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=blogcategory&id=67&Itemid=152

Onto the questions of the week!

Thanks for creating such a valuable resource. I attended your session at the Dance Teacher’s Conference in New York back in August and found your information so helpful. One of my legs is a little longer than the other. This does affect my ballet dancing, particularly my turnout and jumps, etc.. I’ve also noticed that the longer leg is a little more weak than the other. Are there any exercises I can do to help? I am new to your newsletter so please forgive me if you have already addressed this issue. Thanks, Jennifer

Jennifer, if your legs are structurally at different lengths it can influence your alignment. It’s tricky to decide whether or not you should insert a small heel lift in your soft slippers. Your spine needs to be looked at to evaluate it’s curves and response to the shorter leg. Sometimes the spinal curves become less when the pelvis is balanced by putting a heel lift in – other times it might make your spinal curves worse, in which case you would not correct the leg length difference. I would suggest you see a PT or sports physician who could do an assessment of your spine and leg length.

aThere are some common patterns with uneven leg length – some of which you have referred to. When you look at the picture on the left you see the dancer has a pelvic shift right, torso shift left. The common pattern is to stand on the long leg, because to stand with more weight on the short leg would require you bend the long leg. You can see her left leg is the shorter leg.

Typically you come down heavier on the short leg side on each and every step. Sometimes dancers prefer to stand on their short leg and use their longer leg as the gesture leg – although I have seen the opposite preference also. It certainly can influence the turnout too. More often I see the long leg side having more challenges with turnout. It is easy to understand that you’d prefer to stand on your long leg and put your shorter leg in front in fifth position.

The dancer in this photo improved her alignment by putting a lift under her left heel. It evened out her shoulder line as well as equalizing the amount of weight through both legs. She put a lift in her every day shoes – as well as in her soft slipper. For modern dancers sometimes it is enough to have a lift in your shoes – keeping the musculature working evening for the majority of the time, then dancing barefoot without a lift.

There aren’t any special exercises I would offer to you to even out the two sides, rather I would encourage you to have an evaluation to see if a lift would be useful, and then do your stretches and strengtheners in such a way that you are working to balance out the 2 sides. If you find the muscles around the right hip tighter, but weaker, then do more stretching and strengthening on that side. Don’t feel you need to do your workout exactly the same on both sides. It is very common to have one iliopsoas muscle tighter than the other and I tell people if you only have time to do one side – do your right side, as many times as you can throughout the day. Then as the two sides feel more even, you can reflect by stretching more evenly as well.

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I have a student who is complaining of her arches and ball of the foot hurting when she rolls up to pointe. She has fairly flat feet and either tight calves or short Achilles tendons – she does not have a very deep demi-plie. She also tends to roll onto the outside of her pointes. Any ideas as to what can be causing her pain (plantar fasciitis?)? Courtney

heelpa2You’ve hit upon some of the reasons in your question. Having overly tight calf muscles will pull on the plantar fascia, and encourage such standing patterns such as standing slightly forward onto the ball of the foot. That decreases the pull slightly, but over time, certainly doesn’t help to get a deeper plié.

You didn’t indicate where she felt her pain when she rolls up to point. Plantar fasciitis is most often felt on the underside of the foot. The diagram to the left illustrates this.

illustration_sesamoiditisIf she is feeling pain down towards the toes, perhaps she is rolling to the outside of her feet as a way to get away from the pain. It would be useful to send to her a good sport podiatrist who may be able to evaluate her feet and make sure she doesn’t have any problems such as a sesamoiditis.

Have sesamoiditis once myself I know how easy it is to simply rise a little bit more towards the little toe side to get away from the irritation and inflammation of the area underneath the big toe.

There are other reasons she might feel some discomfort only in relévé, but we won’t go into those now. My advise would be to have her get checked out and make sure there isn’t anything structural going on.

As far as deepening her demi plié, I would encourage her to do a lot of soleus stretching. Spend 1-3 minutes in the following stretch.

soleus stretchUntil next time!

Warm regards,

Deborah

“Education is the key to injury prevention”