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Asymmetries and Higher Injury Rates

We are all asymmetrical. Look in a mirror… the 2 sides of your face aren’t even. It’s normal to have slight differences between the 2 hips and the range of turnout. I’ve never seen a perfectly straight spine. Bottom line – we all have some asymmetries in our alignment and muscle usage.

Dancers often will tell you their own asymmetries. ‘My right leg is my better standing leg. My left leg is much higher in in front and side extensions. My right leg is my better jumping leg and so on and so forth.

The challenge is with having uneven movement patterns and asymmetries is that they feel ‘normal’ and we come to accept the differences. We often don’t notice the imbalance or asymmetries increasing over time, unless we do something that makes us aware of how differently the two sides of the body are working.

I ask my students to complete an injury survey before I do a movement assessment. During the assessment I’m looking at the typical relationships between muscle groups. For instance, how much internal versus external rotation do they have at their hips? This simple test tells me something about the structure of the hip joint. I take special note when the ROM tests unevenly between the two sides.

For example, one dancer tests with more turnout than turn-in on both sides, but they aren’t using the turnout they have – they aren’t stable in passé, for example. The second dancer tests one hip with much more turnout and the other side has more turn-in than turnout.

With both dancers the goal will be to improve the balance between the mobility and stability of the hip joint. It is the second dancer, though, that has caught my attention because that type of imbalance is going to show up in other areas. Are they standing in an even first position? What’s happening in the lesser turned out side to make it ‘look’ even?

It is the type of movement detective work that I love so much. And… these types of imbalances and/or asymmetries more often lead to injuries. There was a study done on Division II collegiate athletes who were rowers, volleyball and soccer players. They were given a functional movement screen and the players with asymmetries and differences of movement patterns between the 2 sides of their body were 2.75 times more likely to have sustained an injury that would keep them from practice of competition. The asymmetries were more significant for injuries than having weakness or tightness on both sides.

This makes sense to me. I find those larger imbalances often correlating to past injuries that have been noted on the questionnaire. They may have passed the PT tests for being able to return to dancing – but their movement wasn’t organized or integrated back to pre-injury levels.

This is where doing easy assessments as I show in the mobility/stability online course comes in. Often, it’s motor control that needs to be focused upon.

In the video below, I was working on a simple functional movement of walking up the stairs wanting to keep my pelvis organized and working both legs evenly. I was working on ankle/hip connection and noticing how the decreased mobility in my right ankle was connected to less stability at my right hip (including under utilizing the rotators and gluteus medius)

This exercise could be useful for the dancer who has very different rotation at the 2 hips. No… it isn’t a rotator exercise per se, it is seeing how well the rotators are working within a movement. There are multiple variations on this one simple movement that could focus their attention in different areas.

How about standing in first position on the floor with the stairs on your right. Step slowly and easily with your right foot in turnout on that bottom step and stand. Once you have good balance slowly lower your left foot back down to the floor and into first position.

Balancing out asymmetries requires more than stretches and strengtheners. It requires integrating and organizing our movement efficiently.

If you are an experiential learner, consider coming to the Enhancing Technique with Mobility and Stability Training Dance Teacher Retreat In Tuscany, Italy, July 2022!

To your success,

Deborah

Hypermobile and Tight?

There are many dancers with hypermobility. This is when joints, like the elbows, knees, thumb, etc., can move beyond the normal range of motion. There are different tests to assess where a hypermobile person might fall on the spectrum – but for our purposes let’s just consider the dancer who clearly has hyperextended knees and can easily fold over and place their palms on the ground in standing as having some hypermobility.

I was curious when these very flexible students would complain about feeling tight. Tight? I would think to myself? That doesn’t make sense. I wish I had your flexibility.

Of course, I would never say that to them. If someone is feeling tight – that is what they are feeling and no one should try and persuade them otherwise. Our job as teachers is to help them become familiar with their body and its sensations.

But what if that sensation of tightness is actually tiredness or fatigue? Think about how a hypermobile dancer often stands as they are conversing with friends outside of the studio. They sink into their knees, often shift over into one hip, and drop into chest and lower back. They’ve got an S shape to the spine. Their postural muscles are out to lunch and they aren’t in a stable standing alignment.

Do they need strengthening? Perhaps… but there are hypermobile dancers who test very well on individual strength tests. It’s more the alignment and postural muscles aren’t working appropriately, typically because of sloppy standing habits. What’s happening outside of class is a powerful influence both on the body and what’s happening in the studio!

I would like to offer a different tactic. The goal is to shift feeling ‘tight’ into feeling ‘better’. If you have some hypermobile students, or even better, if you are a teacher with hypermobility, try some balance exercises. If you have a low balance beam or a 2X4 piece of wood, or an 18″ half foam roll walk easily on it (forwards, backwards and sideways). Don’t be too precious with the way you walk. Meaning, be in good alignment, but don’t ‘hold’ yourself and try to balance. It’s not unusual to put a lot of tension into your arms and shoulders, for example, as you are trying to stay balanced over your feet. Breathe easily as you are walking and balancing.

When I coached gymnastics a million years ago, we would have the kids step forward on the balance beam, and then demi plie and sweep their other leg forward to repeat on the other side. They would work their way down the whole beam, doing some port de bras movement to keep them from stiffening their upper bodies. It was an easy and fun warmup exercise.

Try placing a weight in each hand and do some slow motion walking around the room. (You can have your hands by your thighs or even bend your elbows and have the weights up by your shoulders) The weights are to create awareness of any asymmetries in your movement. The goal is not to do ‘strengthening’ but to ask your body to appropriately align itself for easy yet stable movement.

Then check, or have your student check-in with how they feel after doing a balance/postural/stability exercise. Do they feel any less tight? It’s surprising that many will say they feel better in their muscles even without stretching. Yay! This demonstrates that more stability and motor control is the way to go!

This doesn’t mean that stretching and soft tissue work are bad – but potentially doing stability/postural work might progress and support the hypermobile dancer – and help them feel less ‘tight’!

Try this out for yourself and/or for your students and please share your feedback in the comment section below.

To your success,

Deborah