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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!