Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Dancing Through the Adolescent Growth Spurt

          The body is the dancer’s instrument. Anytime that a musician purchases or plays a new or different instrument, there is time spent adjusting to the new instrument and adapting to its differences. As dancers, however, we take our bodies for granted and do not always acknowledge the physiological changes that occur. By not acknowledging these changes, we can become self-defeating and grow frustrated quickly when our bodies do not respond the way we are expecting.

          A major change that every dancer experiences is the growth spurt that occurs during the adolescent years. This period of rapid growth typically occurs between the ages of 11 and 14 and lasts between 1 and 2 years. Dancers who are in the midst of this growth spurt may experience difficulty balancing, a loss of flexibility and strength, and a lack of coordination.

          Any type of growth affects how the body moves through space and responds to the demands place upon it. Unfortunately, during the adolescent growth spurt, there seems to be no set pattern of growth. Quite often the arms and legs grow faster than the torso, which shifts the dancer’s center of gravity causing balance issues. In some cases, one arm or leg may even grow quicker than the other, completely undermining any sense of balance that the dancer may try to establish.

          In the body, bones grow quicker than the soft tissues of the body- the muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Since the tendons, muscles and ligaments are attached to the bones, they are pulled taut as growth occurs. Because they are pulled so tightly, the dancers become less flexible and their muscles lose strength as well.

          As this rapid growth continues, the nervous system struggles to keep up with the skeletal and muscular systems. New nerve cells, or neurons, and nerve pathways are formed. Since these pathways are brand new,it takes time for movements that used to seem so easy to become natural once again. As a result, the dancer may seem and feel uncoordinated.

          With all of these changes occurring, the dancer may feel as if he or she is no longer in control of his or her body and may grow very frustrated. Progress in class may suddenly stop, or dancers may feel like they are regressing and may not understand why.

          It is important that dancers be patient with themselves during this period of time. They need to respect what is happening in their bodies and find other ways to work that will help their technique without causing frustration or predisposing them to injury. Dancers should adjust their expectations of themselves and the way they approach class. They should focus more on alignment and placement during this period of time than on range of motion.  The legs should not be held or lifted as high in exercises, but instead the dancers should think about the position of the legs. The growth spurt is also an ideal time for dancers to work on strengthening the core through Pilates and yoga exercises.

          Focusing on placement, alignment and core strengthening will challenge the dancer during the growth spurt without straining the body, frustrating the dancer, or setting the dancer up for an injury.

          The adolescent growth spurt is a challenging time for dancers, but it is only temporary. It need not be a setback if the dancers understand what is happening in their bodies and are educated about how to deal with all of the changes and work with their bodies to continue to be healthy dancers.

More information about dancing through the adolescent growth spurt can be found on the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science website.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What is an Overuse Injury?

           Taking time out each day to relax and renew is essential to living well. ~Judith Hanson Lasater

           Any type of physical activity is accompanied by a risk of injury, and dance is no exception. Research done on dancers reports injury rates as high as 95% in professional ballet dancers and as high as 82% in professional contemporary dancers. Even recreational dancers experience injuries. A 2010 study reported that 42.6% of female recreational dancers under the age of 16 experienced an injury.
            Some injuries are acute, meaning they are due to one specific traumatic event like a fall, a collision or a poor landing that leads to a fracture, a sprain, a dislocation, or a muscle strain. These injuries are treated right away and have a predictable recovery time – a sprain may require 1-2 weeks in an aircast followed by physical therapy, and a fracture may require a cast for 6 weeks followed by physical therapy.

            Chronic injuries, however, are less predictable. These injuries happen over a long period of time. Unfortunately, they are the most common injuries among dancers and are the most difficult and challenging injuries to treat.

            Exercise places stress upon our bones, tendons, and muscles. This type of stress is a good thing because it causes changes within our body. Slight tears occur in muscles so that the body can rebuild muscles and create stronger tissue. When stress is placed on bones, the body’s response is to add another layer of protection by depositing collagen molecules on bone surfaces to form a matrix that hardens into another layer of bone.

            Unfortunately, when dancers increase the amount of hours they dance, add rehearsal hours into their schedules, or try to add extra classes to get back in shape quickly after a break, they often do not allow the body enough time to rest and go through the rebuilding process before it is once again placed under stress.  The result of this imbalance between time spent dancing and time spent resting is repetitive small traumas in the body tissues that never quite get repaired.

            Eventually, these micro-traumas will accumulate, and the dancer will begin to experience constant pain or aching in specific parts of the body that turn out to be tendinitis, shinsplints or stress fractures. When dancers continue to work when the body is tired, they are also more likely to compensate by using incorrect muscles and disupting skeletal alignment and not paying careful attention to proper technique.

            Once identified, these injuries often require complete rest, which results in missed classes, rehearsals, and, maybe even, performances. Since the injury developed over time, it makes sense it will also need time to heal.

              Some ways to avoid overuse injuries are to listen to our bodies when they are tired, constantly evaluate our technique, and be mindful about our alignment. Doing these things will help to minimize the risk of a dancer developing an overuse injury and help dancers to dance without pain.
Liederbach, M. Schanfein, L. & Kremenic, I. (2013) What is known about the effect of
         fatigue on  injury occurrence among dancers? Journal of Dance Medicineand Science. 
Murgia, C. (2013) Overuse, tissue fatigue, and injuries. Journal of Dance Medicine and 
          Science. 17:3, 92-100.
Shah, S., Weiss, D. & Burchette, R.  (2012) Injuries in professional modern dancers: 
           incidence, risk factors and management.  Journal of Dance Medicine and Science. 
           16:1, 17-25.
Steinberg, N., Siev-ner, I.,Peleg, S., Dar, G., Masharawi, Y., Zeev, A. & Hershkovitz, I.
           (2012): Extrinsic and intrinsic risk factors associated with injuries in young dancers
           aged 8–16 years, Journal of Sports Sciences.  30:5, 485-495.