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How to Take Care of Your Body and Mind During Summer Dance Intensives

How to Take Care of Your Body and Mind During Summer Dance Intensives

By Katherine Moore of Dance Informa.

To many young people, summer means endless days of freedom, ice cream and time to relax. For dancers, however, summer can mean long days, weeks or even months of classes and intensives. Dance companies and schools around the world offer unique summer training programs designed to push young students further in their technique and performance skills. These programs can be both exhilarating and exhausting. So here are some tips to make sure you are getting the most out of your summer program.  

1. Warm up properly.

With the higher temperatures of summer, the temptation to skip a thorough warm-up is strong. You feel warm, so your muscles and joints must be ready to go, right? Wrong. Simply feeling hot from the 90-degree weather in 100-percent humidity does not equal giving your body the preparation it needs to dance. Your joints need a thorough warm-up to start releasing the synovial fluid that protects the joint itself during movement. While your muscles may feel more flexible and open than usual, warming up gets your central nervous system in gear and ready to protect yourself from injury.

2. Drink enough water.

It might go without saying, but staying hydrated is one of the most important parts of taking care of yourself during long days of dance. You need to drink plenty of water before, during and especially after a day of rehearsal and class. When in doubt, drink more.

3. Eat well-balanced meals.

Some programs could have you dancing for 8-10 hours a day, maybe more. Depending on your typical training regimen, this may be more hours of exercise per day than you’re used to. Consequently, you’ll need a bit more fuel than usual to get you through the day.

During hot summer days, many people feel that they have less of an appetite, especially in the evening, so make sure you eat a full, balanced breakfast to get you off on the right foot and ready for a day of dancing.

Focus on whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats throughout the day, and keep snacks around like nuts and fruit to eat in between class and rehearsal. At lunch and dinner, be sure to stock up on veggies to replace the nutrients and minerals you’ve been using, and don’t forget to get some healthy carbohydrates in there for extra energy. Trust me, you’ll need it. Remember, you can also rehydrate by eating foods with high water content, such as fruit and leafy greens. 

4. Know your limits.

It’s important to know when you need to rest. Most summer programs have fairly strict rules about attendance, but if you have completely exhausted yourself, you won’t be getting as much out of your summer dancing as you should. If you get an option for an afternoon off, take it if you need it. Make sure to establish a good relationship with your teachers and directors so that you can both determine if you need a break. 

Injuries are common during summer programs, often because you are dancing more than your body is used to. Pay attention and listen to what your body is telling you. Take time at the end of the day to cool down, stretch and elevate your feet. This can be a great way to check in with how you actually are.

Remember, especially for the hypermobile dancers out there, overstretching can do as much damage as not stretching at all. Particularly if you are really warm and tired, the likelihood of pulling a muscle with vigorous stretching at the end of day increases. Try passive, gentle stretching to decrease soreness and prepare yourself for the next day of dancing. 

5. Have fun!

While summer dance intensives and programs are designed to put you in the professional dancer’s mindset, remember that summer (and dancing) is supposed to be fun! Work hard, but also keep in mind the real reasons why you dance.

Make friends with the other students in your program, enjoy the opportunity to learn and take advantage of opportunities to try new things and learn from new teachers! If your summer is full of workshops and intensives, be sure to schedule in some down time with friends and family.

Especially if you’re attending a program in a city far from home, take the chance to explore and get out of the dance studio when you can. You’ll be surprised at how much having a little fun will improve your dancing and summer experience. 

Photo (top): © Photographerlondon | Dreamstime.com

Posted in Dance Health, Tips & Advice0 Comments

Michael Spencer Phillips: A Story of Injury, Recovery and Inspiration

Michael Spencer Phillips: A Story of Injury, Recovery and Inspiration

By Laura Di Orio of Dance Informa.

Michael Spencer Phillips embodies inspiration. As a dancer, he is disciplined, strong at heart and in the body, and passionate. As a dancer who suffered a massive injury that led doctors to believe he would never walk normally again, but who, 11 months later, returned to the stage, Phillips seems almost otherworldly. The RIOULT Dance NY member is now gearing up for the company’s 20th anniversary season at the Joyce Theater, and he says he is dancing better than ever.

During his time of recovery, Phillips pushed himself – mentally and physically – but he did it in a way that, for his nature, seemed necessary. Not once during his journey did Phillips doubt he would perform again. He accepted his situation, committed himself to full recovery and now shares his incredible story that will surely inspire all.

In October of 2012, RIOULT Dance NY was in Florida performing at the University of Florida’s Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. Phillips, who has been with the company for 12 years, was dancing in On Distant Shores, a layered and physically demanding piece for four men and one woman. During one section, Phillips took off for a jump, when he suddenly heard and felt what he says was the worst pain of his life. In that flash of a moment, several thoughts raced through his mind: “Is this the end of my career?” “How do I get off stage?” “I’m not going to be able to go on our upcoming tour to Germany.” “What is going to happen to the remainder of this piece? The rest of the program?” “Can I move?”

With movement fitting with the piece, Phillips lunged and shifted himself off stage. Another dancer threw on the costume to finish Phillips’ role, and for the company’s last work on the program, Bolero, they performed it with seven dancers instead of eight. Phillips remained on the sidelines, with a good friend and fellow company member, Marianna Tsartolia, who rubbed Phillips’ face and told him it would be okay.

Michael Spencer Phillips

Michael Spencer Phillips. Photo by Rachel Neville.

The following morning, Phillips saw an orthopedist at the University of Florida, but since he wouldn’t be Phillips’ long-term doctor, he couldn’t prescribe anything for the pain. The company flew back to NYC that day, October 26, 2012. Phillips was in a wheelchair. Friends carried him up five flights of stairs to his apartment, and he made an appointment to see Dr. David Weiss first thing after the weekend.

But then Hurricane Sandy struck. Subways were not running, people were stranded at home, and the New York University Hospital was flooded. Phillips would be unable to see his doctor or get a diagnosis for 10 days, and during this time he had to live with the immense pain.

Meanwhile, RIOULT had to prepare for the company’s German tour in two weeks. An apprentice had to go into Phillips’ parts, other dancers had to fill in any gaps, and Phillips felt terrible for the burden he felt he had left on the company.

“All you can think of is how it is affecting everyone else, wishing they weren’t having to rehearse so hard before a tour,” he says. “Touring is hard enough without having to dance new parts and partner with new partners.”

The physical pain, too, was wearing on Phillips. “I really could not move the leg or weight bear much,” he recalls. “I didn’t have much stability or strength with that leg. It was like it wasn’t mine. I couldn’t really control it, and it was so painful to stand, sit, you name it. It hurt.”

Finally, he was able to see Dr. Weiss, who saw the immense bruising to the leg, hip and abdomen and said it was unlike anything he had seen before. After x-rays and an MRI, the injury was diagnosed: Phillips had torn the adductor from his pelvic bone. The adductor was intact, but with it came some of the bone, and together they retracted down the inside of his leg and left a hole in his pelvic bone. Phillips had also torn the labrum and had micro-tears and strains to the abdominus rectus and the fascial tissue of the abdominals.

Weiss consulted with other doctors, but none had seen another dancer who had suffered that severe of a hip injury. Due to the amount of time that had lapsed since the injury, Phillips had to face the possibility that surgeons would not be able to get to the adductor and the chance he may never be able to walk normally again.

“It scared the heck out of me,” Phillips admits. “I know that with any surgery there are risks. As a dancer, these seemed like big ones, though. I had so many things that went wrong at the same time that we had no idea if surgery was going to be successful.”

Michael Spencer Phillips

Michael Spencer Phillips. Photo by Rachel Neville.

Weiss recommended Phillips go see Dr. Srino Bharam, a hip specialist who trained under one of the best hip doctors in the country. Dr. Bharam suggested surgery as soon as possible. He would repair the labral tear, remove the scar tissue from around the adductor, and pull and reattach the adductor with screws and a small plate to the broken pelvic bone. Dr. Bharam would also execute bone resurfacing, a slightly controversial technique that would essentially reshape the head of the femur and the socket of the pelvis where it sits. With the shapes of his bones slightly changed, Phillips would have to re-teach his body how those bones moved in the most efficient way. But for Phillips, the advantages of movement potential outweighed what would be a taxing recovery period.

Phillips went in for surgery on December 5, 2012. What was supposed to be a two-hour procedure took seven hours. But it was successful.

Only 12 hours later, Phillips began the recovery process. He started movement therapy with a controlled passive movement machine, a large contraption that held and helped bend and straighten his leg. He also iced for an hour every other hour for the first five days, after which he began post-surgery physical therapy (PT) with Rocky Bornstein at Westside Dance Physical Therapy.

On that first day of PT, just days after Phillips’ leg was essentially opened up and reattached, he was on a stationary bike.

“I kind of rode the bike with a rhythm of a limp at first,” Phillips says. “I only lasted about four minutes on it, but then I realized that it was all going to work out. I would be back and stronger than ever. It would be painful, it would be challenging, but it would be the most dramatic, life-changing and character-building experience of my entire life.”

For four months, Phillips’ PT routine was about six to eight hours a day. During the first eight weeks, he used crutches to get to and from PT and the gym, where he biked, swam (upper body only), walked, used the treadmill, did Pilates, used weights, TheraBands, silks, balance boards, and did hundreds of exercises for every part of the leg and core.

Soon, he started doing ballet barre in the pool, then he did barre outside the pool, and soon enough, in April of 2013, Phillips went back to ballet class with his teacher, Christine Wright.

“I would do a little more each day,” he says. “If there were exercises I couldn’t do yet, I would learn the exercise and do just the port de bras and visualize myself doing it. Once I could move more, but still not jump or shift weight well, I would try and do the combinations small in the back.”

By summer, Phillips was dancing more and more. On September 16, 2013, he returned to rehearsal. By the middle of October, he performed again for the first time! He started with only one piece and added on more repertory slowly. And now, Phillips is back dancing in almost everything he was before!

Now, Phillips will join RIOULT in the company’s 20th anniversary season at the Joyce from June 17-22. “I am featured in some of the work this season,” he says. “It is a huge honor. I’m just so grateful to be a part of it and to be back home on stage with my dance family.”

Perhaps the key to Phillips’ incredibly quick return to the stage was his attitude. Never once did he ask, “Why me?” Instead, he accepted his fate and reacted with resilience and determination.

“I spoke to a panel of doctors at the University of Michigan in April of 2013,” he recalls. “They told me about athletes who were still rehashing what had happened six and eight months after an injury. They were still doing their PT but weren’t recovering quickly, and these athletes were more than 15 years younger than me. I never did the asking of the questions after that first week. It didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was getting back in the studio and back on stage. That’s where I feel I belong.”

“Six months after my surgery, I was already dancing in class,” Phillips continues. “Eight months after surgery, I was teaching and choreographing. Those athletes were still asking, ‘Why?’ Ten months, back to work full-time and putting in six-hour days of dancing. Eleven months, back to performing. Now, back to back. Dancing more efficiently and smarter and cleaner and with more passion and love for it than ever before. It is fleeting. We cannot be performers forever, but we are dancers. If anyone is going to push it to the limits, it will be us. No one has the discipline of dancers. No one. I believe that.”

For information about RIOULT Dance NY’s Joyce Theater season visit www.rioult.org.

Posted in Dance Health, Interviews1 Comment

High Energy Snacks for Your Young Dancer

High Energy Snacks for Your Young Dancer

By Emily C. Harrison MS, RD, LD
of The Centre for Dance Nutrition.
www.dancernutrition.com

As a mom and a nutritionist I am all too aware of studies showing snacks contribute to better concentration, better memory recall, and help kids stay on task1,2.  Students who have regularly scheduled snacks and who don’t go for more than 3 hours without eating, even something small, have decreased anxiety and were reported to be more happy and alert1,2.  I see it in my own kids, but it really hits home to me as a ballet teacher when I have a group of kids late in the afternoon and some of them are clearly fatigued or out of sorts.  An informal poll of my young ballet students showed me that several of them don’t eat anything at all between lunch time and ballet class which can start as late as 5:45pm.  Their concentration, attitude, and motivation are clearly impacted. Take the time to work with your kids to plan and shop for healthy snacks so that they are quick and available at home to grab and go or throw in a dance bag the night before.  Let your kids pick out fruits and veggies at the store and engage them in washing and food prep.  A little planning can make a big difference in your child’s dance class experience.

Another concern is added ingredients. Certain ingredients in foods such as dyes, artificial flavors, additives, and preservatives like sodium benzoate have been shown to affect hyperactivity, concentration and mood3.   With these and renewed concerns over genetically modified foods affecting developing children, it’s not just sugar that is the villain anymore.  As a busy parent myself, I understand all too well how challenging healthy snacks can be so here are some ideas and my dancers’ favorite recipe:

Choose complex carbohydrates with low to moderate protein/ fat for a pre-dance snack. Expect a small snack to last 2-3 hours of dancing. If your dancer is going to be at the studio longer than that, pack two snacks or a small meal.

  1. 1 banana with 1-2 tbsp peanut butter
  2. 1 cup sweet red pepper slices or carrots with 3 tbsp hummus and some pumpkin seeds
  3. Sunbutter or almond butter and honey sandwich on organic spelt bread
  4. 14 almonds and 1 large apple or 1 cup of grapes
  5. ½  cup granola and non-GMO soy yogurt
  6. Shelled edamame or tofu cubes with rice, veggies and soy sauce (make ahead of time and serve cold)
  7. Hardboiled egg or string cheese with 5-10 whole grain or rice crackers
  8. 6oz low fat yogurt (can substitute for soy or coconut yogurt)
  9. Homemade almond milk smoothie with frozen berries, peaches, and flax seeds. (Make a large batch ahead of time and freeze in small grab and go containers)
  10. Pre-made bar or oatrolls (see below) with fruit, dates, nuts and/or whole grains. (Make a large batch and freeze, then put frozen oatrolls in his/her dance bag in the morning so by the afternoon they are thawed and yummy.)

Many children these days have an intolerance or allergy to dairy and gluten. Registered dietitian Colleen McCarthy RD with On Pointe Nutrition knows firsthand how hard it can be to dance “in a fog of gluten intolerance”.  Here are our recommendations for gluten free/dairy free kids:

  1. Apple salad: apples, walnuts, pecans, raisins
  2. Hummus with brown rice crackers or raw carrots/squash/zucchini/sweet peppers.
  3. Soy/coconut yogurt with flaxseed or chia seeds, fresh blueberries or strawberries and 1tbsp of almond butter- mix it up.
  4. Nut/seed mix: almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, raisins, pecan, brazil nuts, dried pineapple
  5. Banana with almond, cashew, or sunbutter
  6. Coconut water, dark chocolate almond milk or coconut milk
  7. Rice cakes with nut butter and a piece of fruit
  8. Oatmeal with flax seeds or a homemade oatrolls (see recipe)
  9. Popcorn, pumpkin seeds, GF pretzels, and dried fruit trail mix

Easy Almond Oat Energy Rolls
(makes approximately 20 rolls)

  • 2 1/2 cups rolled oats (regular)
  • 1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 2 Tbs. raw sunflower seeds
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup almond butter
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 Tbs. honey
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Grind 1/2 cup oats and 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds in food processor until powdery. Transfer to medium bowl; set aside.

Combine remaining 2 cups oats, remaining 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, raisins, sunflower seeds and cinnamon in large bowl. Stir in almond butter, honey, and vanilla until soft dough forms.

Moisten hands, and roll dough into 1-inch balls. Coat balls in oat-pumpkin seed powder.

Emily Harrison
Dance nutritionistEmily Cook Harrison MS, RD, LD
Emily is a registered dietitian and holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nutrition from Georgia State University. Her master’s thesis research was on elite level ballet dancers and nutrition and she has experience providing nutrition services for weight management, sports nutrition, disordered eating, disease prevention, and food allergies. Emily was a professional dancer for eleven years with the Atlanta Ballet and several other companies. She is a dance educator and the mother of two young children. She now runs the Centre for Dance Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles. She can be reached at emily@dancernutrition.com www.dancernutrition.com

Sources:
1. Physiology & Behavior Volume 90, Issues 2-3, 28 February 2007, Pages 382-385
2. A mid-morning snack improves memory but not attention or psychomotor speed in school-age children in India Appetite. Volume 47, Issue 2, September 2006, Page 262
3. www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(07)61306-3/fulltext

Photo (top): © Guille Faingold | Dreamstime.com

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I’m Sore! Now What?

I’m Sore! Now What?

By Laura Di Orio of Dance Informa.

As a dancer, you are constantly using your body in new ways. Perhaps you were challenged in a really hard class. Or maybe your company started rehearsing a new piece of repertory. Maybe you took a modern class that incorporated a ton of deep pliés. It’s no wonder, then, that there are some days when you wake up, take your first step out of bed and think, “I am so sore!”

So what does it mean to be “sore”? And what should you do about it? Here, Dance Informa speaks with Marissa Joseph, CSCS, founder of Working Lines Training.

WHAT IS “SORENESS”?

Joseph says that scientists have differing opinions on what is going on in your body when you feel sore. Some believe that soreness might come from minute tears in the muscle fiber’s contractile units. Others believe that feeling sore may actually be psychological.

“Whichever the case,” Joseph says, “feeling ‘sore’ usually constitutes a feeling of stiffness and ache in the muscle belly due to overuse. Soreness usually comes on the morning after a tough rehearsal or workout or anywhere between 24 and 48 hours post.”

Working Lines Training Founder Marissa Joseph

Joseph leads workshops on the importance of strength training for dancers. Photo courtesy of Marissa Joseph.

TO STRETCH OR NOT TO STRETCH?

It may be tempting as a dancer to stretch it out when you feel sore. It may feel “good”, or maybe stretching has just become part of your warm-up routine. Stretching, however, may not be the best way to remedy soreness, although it does depend on your degree of soreness.

“If it is correct that soreness is actually caused by micro-tears in the muscle, static stretching, like sitting in your splits, will likely cause more damage to this tissue,” Joseph points out.

Instead, Joseph recommends taking the time to do some gentle dynamic stretches: sun salutations, pliés à la seconde, pliés in sixth position while in a cambré forward, lunges à la seconde.

“This will begin to warm up the body while working through a stretch and bring blood flow to the area,” she adds. “Blood carries nutrients that will help repair tissues.”

If you are very sore, to the point where your movement is counteracted, then Joseph advises staying away from stretching entirely.

LEVELS OF SORENESS

Depending on the level of your soreness, your mode of treatment may differ. If your soreness is very light, Joseph says it’s safe to proceed into your dance day as normal but with a longer warm-up. If your soreness is moderate, she recommends giving yourself ample time to dynamically stretch and do a few exercises. At this level, Joseph also suggests avoiding extreme movements. If your soreness is at an uncomfortable level and causes discomfort when you move, she advises icing the muscle and taking the day off, without even stretching or foam rolling.

A day off may seem almost sacrilegious to dancers, but it could be the best cure for severe soreness. “Once a dancer starts changing his or her movement to work around a sore muscle, they are at a higher risk of injuring themselves,” Joseph adds. “I know it’s tempting to work through your pain, but be sure to give your body a rest when it asks for it! When your muscle stops being sore, you are generally okay to start your normal routine again.”

Stretching for muscle soreness

Working Lines Training Founder Marissa Joseph says stretching may not always be the best remedy for sore muscles. Photo courtesy of Marissa Joseph.

PREVENTING SORENESS?

As a dancer, who is constantly exploring movement or practicing one set of steps repeatedly, you are bound to get sore. It’s part of the game. This unavoidable soreness, however, can be a good thing!

“You will notice that with new stimulus or different stress, your body will generally react by being sore,” Joseph says. “When your muscles adapt to a new regimen or routine, however, you’ve become stronger and should no longer feel achy. I think it is good to be sore sometimes. It usually means that you are challenging your body. The more we physically challenge our bodies, the stronger they will become!”

SORE DANGER

Make sure you continuously check in with your body, and pay attention to the degree of your soreness.

“If your soreness persists much longer than 48 hours, a dancer should start to be concerned,” Joseph says. “It could be the case that he or she has actually injured the muscle. Also, if the dancer starts to experience any sharp pains, they should seek the help of a health professional.” 

Photo (top): © Softdreams | Dreamstime.com

Posted in Dance Health, Tips & Advice1 Comment

Injury Prevention 101: Tiny Terrors

Injury Prevention 101: Tiny Terrors

By Leigh Schanfein of Dance Informa.

As devastating as a major injury can be, sometimes it’s the little things that get us down. When you’re always covered in bruises but have to keep doing that floor work, or you’ve ripped the same hole in your foot twice a day for the past month, you start to get desperate for a cure.

So, what are some things we can do about these nasty little injuries? A bevy of dancers shared their thoughts, and expert clinician Alan Kroll, MS, ATC, athletic trainer for many of Broadway’s major shows including Crazy for You, Steel Pier, The Color Purple, La Cage aux Folles, Follies and Jesus Christ Superstar, weighs in with his own special recommendations.

Cuts and split skin

To prevent: A lot of dancers like to use a fat-based balm to keep their skin softer so it’s less likely to split in the first place. This might be coconut oil, Bag Balm or a neutral lip balm. If your calluses start to get craggy, use a pumice stone to reduce thickness or nail clippers to trim tough edges so they don’t get caught and pull the wound open. Some dancers also develop elaborate taping methods, using flexible tape like Elastoplast to weave between the toes for strategic prevention.

To heal: Glue it shut! Almost every dancer I’ve asked responds with Super Glue to close up small cuts on their feet. Make sure the cut is clean and sterile and skin is trimmed, then do as the ER doctor might and use super glue to bring the edges of the skin together. Again, strategic taping can help keep a cut from opening further and keep it covered while it heals. One dancer and choreographer who shall remain nameless even recommended urinating on your open wounds to make them heal faster – but we really don’t need to go that far, and I wouldn’t recommend it – ewww! 

Pro tips from Alan Kroll: Cuts need to be kept clean and sterile, preventing microorganisms from growing. This can be done with an alcohol swab or an antiseptic like Hibiclens. Bacitracin with zinc is an antibiotic cream that will help heal cuts faster. Leukotape is great for holding skin together as it is a strong adhesive and can stay on for a few days! Just be careful taking it off as it can tear skin too (nail polish remover works well as a dehesive.)

Legs with bruises

My poor legs in mid-February after performances with a lot of floor work.

Blisters

To prevent: Blisters form due to friction on the outer layers of skin. Placing a layer between what rubs and your skin can eliminate that friction. This could be tights, clothing or tape in many cases. Your skin will also toughen up with exposure so you will be less susceptible to blisters once your skin gets used to a new shoe or to dancing barefoot. If a blister is raw for a prolonged period or getting worse, then you need to remove the irritant to let it heal.

To heal: As with calluses, dancers can use a balm or oil to make sure their skin stays soft and doesn’t dry out and harden around the blister. Some dancers like using New-Skin to protect an open blister, while others will just wrap it in waterproof tape that won’t slide around during dance. Keep an open blister clean, sterile and covered.

Pro tips from Alan Kroll: If the blister is still intact, don’t pop it. If it has popped, leave the skin over the wound. If you need to pop it, use a sterile needle to make a small hole at the bottom and let the fluid drain out. Again, sterilize and cover an open or popped blister. Place a soft doughnut around the blister in addition to New-Skin or a Silipos (gel pad) protection. Simple Dr. Scholl’s callus pads work well as does moleskin, which can be cut to size and also used for cuts and splits. Lots of companies make “blister kits” that you can buy at the drug store.

Bruises

To prevent: Bruises occur when capillaries, the smallest blood vessels, and sometimes tiny veins are broken due to impact, allowing blood to pool near the surface of the skin. The fun purple, blue, brown and yellow colors you see are from your blood! Other than wearing padding, there is not much to prevent bruising except trying your best to control descents to the floor with strong muscles and smooth, coordinated movement, and trying not to run into things! Have we mentioned dancers are clumsy? (See this fun article: Why are dancers so clumsy?)

To heal: Use balms like Traumeel and Topricin, or Biofreeze and other arnica creams.

Pro tips from Alan Kroll: Don’t use a warming balm like Tiger Balm – it’s going to have the opposite effect and bring more blood to the area! Something like Traumeel is great because research has demonstrated that it has the similar anti-inflammatory and healing effects of NSAIDs (like aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen), but without the negative soft tissue side effects. 

Don’t let these little troubles get to you! You can easily take care of them so they don’t become persistent problems. Prevention is best, but sometimes that is a more difficult thing to do with a small injury like a bruise or a floor burn which, by the way, you should sterilize and keep clean and covered!

So use the tools of the trade to help you get on the mend quickly. Use all creams, especially antibacterial and antiseptics, as directed, and get creative with experimenting and practicing with your taping and padding techniques. Find something that works for you! Just remember, if anything is causing you persistent or intolerable pain, or looks infected, go see a trusted medical professional.

Alan Kroll, MS, ATC, is the owner of SportCare, and provides injury care and fitness training for performance enhancement to dancers, athletes, musicians and musical theatre performers in the New York City area.

This is merely an advice column. If you have questions or concerns about any of this information or your own cuts, blisters or bruises please speak to a medical professional. Dance Informa is not liable for the misuse of this information and encourages you to speak to a medical practitioner before using any of the techniques or products listed.

Posted in Dance Health4 Comments

Sports Nutrition for the Male Dancer

Sports Nutrition for the Male Dancer

By Emily C. Harrison MS, RD, LD
of The Centre for Dance Nutrition.
www.dancernutrition.com

It is undeniable that dancers are athletes at the highest level. They have to maintain maximum performance, strength and endurance all while looking great in tights. The aesthetic athlete has to pay close attention to what they eat and drink. Sports nutrition for male dancers is an expansive topic, but here are a just a few key points.  

Timing is Everything

Veteran, Principal Dancer with Atlanta Ballet, John Welker, has had a remarkable career and knows firsthand how critical meals and snacks are to performance and recovery.  “Nutrition and eating enough is everything for me,” says Welker. “It’s harder for me to eat enough than not. I always try to eat consistently and constantly throughout the day.  I also started to eat during performances, which might sound weird, but any two-hour show is a long time without any food for me.” What John has found works for him is actually a well-researched concept in sports nutrition called “Energy Balance.” This is the secret for dancing stronger, improving body composition, building muscle, having more endurance, improving performance and reducing injury risk. It’s all about timing healthy meals and snacks to work for you. 

How to get Energy Balance to work for you

Eating exactly the right amount of fuel for the activity you are about to do is the best way. It is meeting and adjusting your body’s energy (calorie) needs as they change throughout the day depending on how hard you are working. Never go for more than three hours without eating something even if it is small, and some dancers will need to eat every two hours when working hard.

Dancer needs vary dramatically. This is a very generalized example. For a more detailed plan, e-mail Emily@dancernutrition.com.

7:00 am breakfast (never skip breakfast)
9:45 am pre-class snack (like a banana) 
11:30 am post-class snack with moderate protein and some carbs
11:45 am-2:45 pm rehearsals: quick, complex carbs during breaks
2:45 lunch mix of protein, carbs, healthy fats and water
3:45-6:45 rehearsals: quick, complex carbs during breaks
6:45 commute home: chocolate soy milk or dairy milk
7:45 Dinner: mix of protein, carbs, healthy fats and more water


Protein Needs and Timing

Adequate protein intake is critical. However, the amount of protein actually needed is often over emphasized in male athletes and getting more that you need can be as bad as getting too little. Protein should be about 12-15 percent of all your calories each day3. Male dancers should calculate their protein needs at around 1.3-1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (a bit more if they are still a young growing dancer). So a 170-pound male dancer (77.3 Kg) would need about 100 grams of protein per day. Fad diet Paleo followers often double that at the expense of carbohydrate, which can be a recipe for organ stress and poor athletic performance. Protein is best utilized when eaten in regular meals and snacks throughout the day in increments of 7-20 grams at a time. Protein loading doesn’t actually help. Research indicates that the body might not really use more than 20 grams at a time for building muscle so those extra amino acids end up being expensive extra calories4,5. The amount in a cup of beans and rice, a bowl of oatmeal (porridge) with ¼ cup nuts and flax seeds, 1 cup soy milk, or 3 oz. of chicken is 7-20 grams. Vegetables, beans, grains and soy all have protein and it adds up. Try to eat protein within an hour post-exercise. But up to 24 hours is ok4.

Hydration

The first two signs of dehydration are fatigue and poor balance. Thirst doesn’t kick in until the body has lost 1-2 liters of fluid1. Dehydration increases body temperature, can affect heart rate, cardiac output and endurance, and impairs ability for nutrients to get to working muscles and for those muscles to eliminate things like lactic acid. An even bigger problem is that in order to move quickly from standing to dancing full out, dancers rely heavily on a storage form of energy called glycogen. The body might burn through muscle glycogen faster when dehydrated thus depleting this important fuel faster than if well hydrated. Use sports beverages only sparingly and when needed, and let water be your main beverage of choice. Avoid high sugar and energy (caffeine bomb) drinks.  

Welker reports that he mostly sticks to water in keeping well hydrated: “Always a glass before going to bed, and always a glass first thing in the morning. Occasionally when I have a very demanding role and rehearsal period, and I need to stay hydrated beyond water to keep from cramping, I’ll make my own Oral Rehydration drink. The recipe is 1 liter water (~4 cups), 6 level teaspoons sugar and 1/2 level teaspoon salt. Mix until dissolved and drink. Also, I have found coconut water and chocolate milk are also very effective.” 

Drink regularly to avoid thirst. Your water bottle should be your constant companion.

Recommendations depend on weight, sweat rate and amount of exercise1,2,3:

Before Exercise: Drink ~400-500 ml (13-16 oz.) of water at least four hours before

During Exercise: Drink 150-350 ml (6-12 oz.) of water every 20 minutes (or at least 20 oz. every hour)

Post-Exercise: Drink at least 720-1000 ml (24-32 oz.) of water

Emily Harrison
Dance nutritionistEmily Cook Harrison MS, RD, LD
Emily is a registered dietitian and holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nutrition from Georgia State University. Her master’s thesis research was on elite level ballet dancers and nutrition and she has experience providing nutrition services for weight management, sports nutrition, disordered eating, disease prevention, and food allergies. Emily was a professional dancer for eleven years with the Atlanta Ballet and several other companies. She is a dance educator and the mother of two young children. She now runs the Centre for Dance Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles. She can be reached at emily@dancernutrition.com www.dancernutrition.com

Sources:
1. Benardot D. Advanced Sports Nutrition.
2. Coyle EF. “Fluid and Fuel intake during exercise.” Journal of Sports Sciences, 2004, 22:39-55.
3. American College of Sports Medicine, Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Joint Position Statement of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly ADA) and Dietitians of Canada. 2009.
4. Tipton KD. “Protein Nutrition and Exercise: What is the Latest?” SCAN’s Pulse. Spring 2011.
5. Witard OC, Tipton KD.  School of Sports Studies, University of Stirling.

Photo (top):  © Viorel Dudau | Dreamstime.com

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Ways to show your heart some love Valentine’s

Ways to show your heart some love Valentine’s

By Emily C. Harrison MS, RD, LD
of The Centre for Dance Nutrition.
www.dancernutrition.com

February is heart health month. This Valentine’s day, we want to help you maintain the one muscle in your body that is always working. Making small changes to your daily routine and dietary intake will ensure that your heart is protected and in top form for rehearsals and performances.

1. Rethink the way you shop for food.

Eating “clean”, “natural” and “unprocessed” are all hot buzzwords, and are certainly a great way to show your heart some love. But how do you really put that into practice? Understanding the layout of a grocery store will keep you from selecting processed foods that could be harmful for your health in the long run. Choose fresh food items usually located around the perimeter of the store and avoid processed goods are in the aisles. If it has a long ingredient list that you can’t pronounce, you might reconsider buying it. Think through meals and snacks ahead of time, create a grocery list and stick to it, and eat a healthy snack before you shop. When you are hungry it is much harder to resist high sugar/high fat foods. The temptation to buy more products not included on your list is higher when you are hungry.

2. Eat more fiber and lower your risk for heart disease.

Young dancers might not be worried about heart disease, but studies show that even one high-fat, junk food meal can affect how the blood flows through arteries (4). Blood flow and arterial health is so important for athletes. Minimally processed or unprocessed, fiber-rich whole grains, such as steel cut oatmeal, Ezekiel bread, quinoa and other whole grain products, are essential for heart health and peak athletic performance. Your body digests fiber-containing foods slower than simple carbs. That means that your blood sugar and insulin levels will remain stable, your body will have sustained energy, and you will feel fuller longer. Fiber is also good for cholesterol levels. Research shows that fiber in whole grains lowers LDL cholesterol, or “bad” cholesterol. Fiber is also in fruits and vegetables. You will feel and dance better by eating more natural foods that are rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals.

3. Choose heart-healthy proteins.

Some fish like salmon, trout or tuna may help lower your risk of coronary heart disease. That is because they are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which may also help reduce body fat as well as keep your heart healthy.1 While fish are good sources of protein and fat, there are some concerns that they contain environmental contaminants such as mercury and PCBs, so if you eat fish, do so occasionally and choose sustainable sources (see ewg.org). Beans, nuts, seeds and soy are great sources of protein and healthy fats. Plus, they have vitamins, minerals, and cancer fighting phytonutrients.

4. Don’t deprive yourself.

Being too restrictive can backfire, and may make it harder to resist unhealthy foods. When you do want to indulge, keep portions small and consider options that also have health benefits. Dark chocolate contains high levels of flavonoids, which may improve coronary vascular function.3 Eating dark chocolate every once in a while will keep you from splurging too much later.

5. Try heart-healthy food combos.

Try some oatmeal with nuts or pumpkin seeds or whole grain toast with almond butter for a fiber-rich breakfast that will keep you full while exercising. Try whole grain pita bread with hummus, greens and a veggie burger before a show, or a fresh fruit smoothie with soy milk and flax seeds. The combination of the different nutrients will keep you full without weighing you down. Dancers should aim for 2-3 servings of fruit and 3-6 servings of vegetables per day.  

Eden Morris, graduate student and dietetic intern at the Department of Nutrition at Georgia State University, contributed to this article.

Emily Harrison
Dance nutritionistEmily Cook Harrison MS, RD, LD
Emily is a registered dietitian and holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nutrition from Georgia State University. Her master’s thesis research was on elite level ballet dancers and nutrition and she has experience providing nutrition services for weight management, sports nutrition, disordered eating, disease prevention, and food allergies. Emily was a professional dancer for eleven years with the Atlanta Ballet and several other companies. She is a dance educator and the mother of two young children. She now runs the Centre for Dance Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles. She can be reached at emily@dancernutrition.com www.dancernutrition.com

 

Sources:
1. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; www.eatright.org
2. The American Heart Association: www.heart.org
3. Flammer AJ, Hermann F, Sudano I, et al. “Dark Chocolate Improves Coronary Vasomotion and Reduces Platelet Reactivity.” Circulation. 2007; 116(21):2376–2382. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.107.713867.
4. Canadian Journal of Cardiology, Sept.-Oct. 2012.

Photo (top): © Elena Schweitzer | Dreamstime.com.

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Strategies to Beat the Holiday Bulge: Small Changes, Big Impact

Strategies to Beat the Holiday Bulge: Small Changes, Big Impact

By Emily C. Harrison MS, RD, LD of The Centre for Dance Nutrition.
www.dancernutrition.com

When the holidays are over and we are left with a few extra pounds, it’s tempting to want to go for the quick fix such as fad diets, questionable supplements or restrictive eating. But that always backfires and might lead to higher body fat and lower muscle mass in the long run. The best strategy for real weight loss is to make small, sustainable changes overtime.  I know it’s not the most sensational or sexy message, but it works. If you want real change that lasts, keep reading…

Small Changes=Big Impact

Little changes add up, leading to big results that are easier to sustain. Cutting 100-200 calories per day can lead to 10-20 lbs weight loss in a year. This doesn’t mean starvation or restriction, just being mindful where extraneous calories come from. For example, some coffee drinks and smoothies from national chains can have 400-800 calories, one pat of butter can have 100 calories, and just two slices of bacon adds 108 high fat calories. Instead of bacon or sausage for breakfast, have ¼ cup of almonds or walnuts on oatmeal. Instead of a burger for lunch, have a wrap with veggies beans and rice. Instead of a protein smoothie for a snack (potentially 700 calories) have an apple, granola bar and some soy milk.

Strategy 1: Start off right

Studies published on the National Weight Control Registry show that 78 percent of people who lose weight and keep it off eat breakfast. Eating breakfast is associated with eating fewer calories later in the day, better athletic performance and decreased binge episodes1. Many of my clients who have trouble controlling cravings or food intake find that when they start their day with a good breakfast and a morning snack three hours later, they have a much easier time losing weight. Breakfast eaters have lower body weight and lower body fat percentage because they burn more fat3. Mornings can be busy times, so plan ahead and get up just five minutes earlier.

Strategy 2: Understand what may be affecting the desire to overeat  

Overeating high fat and high sugar foods can lead to a decrease in the brain neurotransmitter dopamine which affects the foods you desire and the quantity of those foods because it is connected with the areas in the brain associated with “reward”4. Sugary foods result in an addictive response for more. The more you eat, the more you want of these highly rewarding foods4. Don’t worry, all is not lost, we can get back to a healthy balance again by eating mindfully and consuming less of these rich foods. At first, it might feel hard, but stick with it. It does get easier as the days go by. Take one day at a time.

Strategy 3: Vow to eat fresh, real food

What if you didn’t go to a fast food restaurant for the next 21 days? What if you didn’t eat fast food for a whole year? Tastes and cravings change over time. When you eat more fresh fruits and vegetables in the place of less processed junk, and less buttery, creamy or fried foods, you can actually change what you desire and crave. Significantly reduce sugar and butter for 21 days, then see how you feel. That gooey cream sauce might not be as appealing. Make your health a priority this New Year by pledging to fuel your body with food that doesn’t come from a box, a powder, a bar or passed through a car window. Pledge to get a new cookbook or follow a vegetarian food blog.

Strategy 4: Know your triggers

If ice cream is your downfall, don’t keep it in the house. Accessibility is key. Make healthy snacks accessible and easy and it will be much easier to resist unhealthy foods. Keep fresh fruit washed and ready for quick fix.

Strategy 5: Watch Portions 

Serve yourself on a smaller plate, put snacks in small to-go containers for quick bites on the run, and don’t buy the bargain super-size foods. It’s not a bargain if it isn’t good for your health.

Yes, it takes a little planning, and a little extra time. But studies show healthy eating actually costs less. We all lead busy lives in this hectic modern world. “Those who think they have no time for healthy eating, will sooner or later have to find time for illness.” You are worth it.

Emily Harrison
Dance nutritionistEmily Cook Harrison MS, RD, LD
Emily is a registered dietitian and holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nutrition from Georgia State University. Her master’s thesis research was on elite level ballet dancers and nutrition and she has experience providing nutrition services for weight management, sports nutrition, disordered eating, disease prevention, and food allergies. Emily was a professional dancer for eleven years with the Atlanta Ballet and several other companies. She is a dance educator and the mother of two young children. She now runs the Centre for Dance Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles. She can be reached at emily@dancernutrition.com www.dancernutrition.com

 

Sources:

1. National Weight Control Registry: www.nwcr.ws/Research/default.htm.
2. Masheb RM, Grilo CM. High Caloric intake at breakfast vs. dinner differentially influences weight loss of overweight and obese women. Obesity. 2013 Dec;21(12):2504-12.
3. Stevenson EJ, Astbury NM, Simpson EJ, Taylor MA, Macdonald IA. “Fat oxidation during exercise and satiety during recovery are increased following a low-glycemic index breakfast in sedentary women.”
4. Liebman B. Food and Addiction. “Can some foods hijack the brain?” Nutrition Action. Centre for Science in the Public Interest. May 2012.

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Choosing the Right Energy Foods

Choosing the Right Energy Foods

By Emily C. Harrison, MS, RD, LD of Centre for Dance Nutrition.
www.dancernutrition.com.

Choosing the right energy foods doesn’t have to be complicated. It just takes knowing a few key things about how nutrients work in the body and which foods are good sources of those nutrients.

Carbohydrates are known to be an energy storehouse for athletes, but certain vitamins and minerals play an equally important role in helping us feel energetic. The important thing to remember is that real energy comes from food. “Energy” pills or supplements claims haven’t stood up to scientific study when compared to actual food. “Energy” drinks rely on extreme amounts of caffeine which does increase alertness but isn’t a substitute for real food. Lastly the body prefers to use protein for important biological functions instead of burning it for energy. A protein shake before exercise won’t give you the same energetic feeling that carbohydrates will.

Repeat after me, carbohydrates are good….

Ignore the latest anti-grain food fad and choose diverse sources of whole grains for maximum energy. Whole grains differ from refined grains because they haven’t been stripped of the nutrient rich outer bran and germ. These contain fiber, minerals, vitamin E and B-vitamins. B-vitamins help the body convert calories into useable energy. Again and again whole grains are shown to increase athletic performance and contribute to lowered risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes1,2. Whole wheat, brown rice and oats are classics. However, think outside the box with these ancient grains:  

  • Barley was once the food of the Roman gladiators1.  A good source of fiber, selenium and b-vitamins, it works well in soups and pilafs.
  • Millet has been cultivated for 8,000 years and is a staple food in many countries1. Not only a good source of carbs and fiber, it contains the minerals manganese and phosphorus, which are important in bone health.
  • Buckwheat makes for delicious noodles and is gluten free. 
  • Spelt is another ancient grain that has higher protein content than wheat. It does contain gluten but might be less reactive in those with mild wheat sensitivities.  It can be used in breads, pancakes and baked goods and has fiber, iron, zinc, magnesium and phosphorus2.
  • Quinoa cooks faster than rice, is a good source of protein, and is gluten free.
  • Couscous will cook in only five minutes and is perfect when you are short on time.

Quick Burst Energy vs. Long Sustained Energy

The Glycemic Index is a tool that gives a numerical value to a specific amount of food based on how it affects your body’s blood sugar and insulin over a specific time period. Foods with lower numbers provide energy over a longer time. Whole grains, vegetables and other low glycemic index foods will help give you sustained energy, but sometimes you want to grab something for quick, immediate energy during an intermission or a short break. In this case, protein or dairy isn’t what you want. Choose simple carbs from fresh grapes, strawberries, dried fruit, pretzels, oatbars, bread and preserves, or crackers. These get absorbed and used-up fast without leaving you feeling sluggish.

Non-grain food superstars for energy and wellness

  • Mushrooms: Find ones treated with UV light in the produce refrigerated section of your grocery. The UV light increases the amount of vitamin D with one serving containing more than half your recommended vitamin D for the whole day. Vitamin D isn’t just important for bone heath, it is critical in immune function and disease prevention. You can’t feel energetic if you are sick. People with normal Vitamin D status in their body can fight infections better than those who are deficient.  
  • Sweet potatoes: Contain Vitamin C and the antioxidants beta-carotene and Lutein.  Lutein is an antioxidant whose protective effect may increase when heated2. Sweet potatoes’ glycemic index score is 41 points better than a standard white russet potato3.
  • Beans, lentils, and peas: Only one half cup of these nutrient powerhouses have 23 grams of carbohydrate but they also have a full serving of protein too4. Plus they have iron and zinc, which are important in fighting illness. And, you can’t beat the price at $0.25/ serving.

For more information on nutrition and maintaining more energy, check out my other Dance Informa articles on this topic: Don’t Fear Carbs, Glycemic Index, Energy Balance and Protein Needs of Dancers.

Emily Harrison
Dance nutritionistEmily Cook Harrison MS, RD, LD
Emily is a registered dietitian and holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nutrition from Georgia State University. Her master’s thesis research was on elite level ballet dancers and nutrition and she has experience providing nutrition services for weight management, sports nutrition, disordered eating, disease prevention, and food allergies. Emily was a professional dancer for eleven years with the Atlanta Ballet and several other companies. She is a dance educator and the mother of two young children. She now runs the Centre for Dance Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles. She can be reached at emily@dancernutrition.com www.dancernutrition.com

 

Sources:
1. Mateljan, G. The World’s Healthiest Foods. 2007
2. Environmental Nutrition Newsletter of Food, Nutrition & Health. Vol 36, issue 11. November 2013. www.environmentalnutrition.com
3. Glycemic Index and Glycmic Load for 100 foods. 2013 www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/Glycemic_index_and_glycemic_load_for_100_foods.htm
4. USDA Database for Standard Reference. 2013 

Photo (top): © Piotr Marcinski | Dreamstime.com

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Injury Prevention 101: Stress Fractures and Spondylolysis

Injury Prevention 101: Stress Fractures and Spondylolysis

By Leigh Schanfein of Dance Informa.

History and science museums are full of them. Graveyards and memorial grounds are packed with them. Archaeologists study those that have lasted millennia. Bones seem as tough and indelible as stone! And, while our bones are really hard and give our bodies support and protection, they are made up of living cells that continually build up and break down. Our bones even have blood vessels running through them, carrying oxygen and nutrients to those living cells. Because our bones are in constant flux, they are affected by how we treat our bodies, largely by what we do or do not eat, and by our physical activities.

Because our bones are in a constant state of regeneration, if we do not take care of our bodies in healthy ways, we could inadvertently damage our bones. Whenever we do exercise and the muscles pull on our bones, or we do “weight-bearing” activities and our skeleton has to bear the forces of our weight, the bone gets a signal that it needs to be strong to support these activities. This triggers an increase in building up bone and increasing bone density. This is good – dense bone is strong bone! Physical activity, especially weight-bearing activity, promotes bone turnover: first there is break down and then there is even more growth. But bone cannot be made out of thin air. We have to get the components for making bones in our diet. Without them, not only will our bodies not be able to lay adequate amounts of new bone on the old, it also will cause the body to strip bone of these resources so they are available for other important functions elsewhere in the body.  

One thing that can happen to bones when there is too much demand that cannot be met, either because of too much physical stress or inadequate nutrition, or a combination thereof, is a stress fracture.

What is a stress fracture?

A stress fracture is a type of fracture, or break, that occurs because we are putting demands on the bone that cannot be met. In other words, the bone is being broken down more quickly than it is being regenerated. Unlike a traumatic fracture, a stress fracture occurs over time with repeated strain and usually doesn’t result in a complete break or displacement of the bone. It can occur in dancers because we are putting great physical demands on our bones both in amount of force and angle of force. It is especially problematic if a dancer is incurring great physical demands in conjunction with inadequate nutrition. 

Lumbar spine stress fracture

Lateral view of lumbar spine with stress fracture on pars interarticularis of the L5 vertebra. Diagram by Leigh Schanfein.

How do I know if I have a stress fracture?

Stress fractures generally occur slowly over time, so often a dancer might not even know he or she has one until it has progressed to a more serious stage. How much pain someone will experience also depends on the stress fracture location. For example, if the stress fracture is in the tibia, the bone you feel on the front of your shin, it might be very painful with jumping. But, if the stress fracture is in the spine then the dancer might not feel it unless he goes into a huge back extension (backbend) or adds a twist with that bend.

Usually the pain will be localized so you can point to exactly where it hurts, it will be over a bone, and there might be swelling and tenderness. A doctor will want to perform some diagnostic tests. Dr. Mamie Air is a physiatry fellow in interventional sports and spine who now treats dancers with more care than she received when she was a dancer! “I may not use an X-ray at all since many dancer patients are young and of reproductive age,” explains Dr. Air. Additionally, “often the X-rays will be normal, particularly if there is only a stress fracture… typically more imaging is needed.” Doctors used to turn to bone scans but now they more often use an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to diagnose because it doesn’t use radiation and can provide far more detail.  

How is a stress fracture treated?

A stress fracture is one of those injuries that mostly just requires time to heal because the bone will need a while to heal. Dr. Air points out that it’s still a fracture. “Even if the bone has not completely fractured through, and is in the category of a stress reaction or a stress fracture, it is important to prevent it from progressing.” Treatment time depends on how early the stress fracture was detected and how far it has progressed as well as location in the body and what kinds of stresses are put on that bone. Healing can be as long as two to three months with partial or complete rest.

Prevention is best – how can I prevent a stress fracture?

Something really important in both injury prevention and general health is making sure you get adequate nutrition. This means obtaining all nutrient groups from your diet. Of particular importance for bone health are the minerals that make up bone, including Calcium and Phosphorus, and the vitamins and minerals that assist your body in using them, including Vitamin D, Magnesium and Manganese. Calcium is of the utmost importance and can be found in dairy products, leafy greens and nuts among other sources. Vitamin D is essential for absorption of Calcium in the body and, while it can be found in foods, our best source is the sun. We use energy from the sun to convert molecules already in our bodies into Vitamin D. You dancers who spend hours in the studio should try to get about 15 minutes of sunshine too!

Age is a factor in bone health. We can only increase our bone density until about age 30, so you need to be diligent about getting adequate nutrition, especially as a teenager.

Even someone with good bone health can get a stress fracture if they put enough repetitive stress on the bone. So, it’s important to pay attention to your body. Give yourself adequate rest. If you begin to experience the pointed pain associated with a stress fracture, see a trusted doctor as soon as possible.

What is Spondylolysis?

Spondylolysis is a stress fracture in one or more of the vertebrae in the lumbar spine, the bones in your lower back. It is a common stress fracture among young dancers who go into extreme back bends or “whack” their arabesque without using their muscles to properly support and protect the spine. The stress fracture develops on a slender part of the bone that connects the spiney parts that stick out from the round body of the bone. It also happens to be in between where the vertebra articulates or moves in contact with the bone above and below it in the spine, so it is a site of rotational forces. 

As with any other fracture, “it is important to give your bones the optimum chance at healing. This unfortunately means being ‘shut down’ from all physical activities that could potentially harm this part of the spine.” Dr. Air says it is extremely important not to push through the pain.  Surgery is rarely indicated but patients with spondylolysis are typically treated with two to three months rest from physical activity, which could include wearing a back brace to prevent back extension. Fortunately though, “rehabilitation typically occurs when the pain has stopped, and a dancer is recommended to begin a gradual physical therapy plan, particularly focused on core strength,” graduating to dance-like movements once he/she is strong enough to do so. 

Keep Dr. Air’s advice in mind: “[Do] not push through the pain, seek consultation early if it is not getting better, discuss with your doctor the appropriate imaging test, take the advice to ‘rest’ very seriously (anticipate 2-3 months off dancing and performing), and then gradually get back into a graded rehabilitation plan.” It is also extremely important to figure out why the stress fracture occurred in the first place. Are you getting adequate nutrition? Is your caloric intake in line with your expenditure? Is your technique or choreography causing you to repetitively stress one part of the spine? Is the musculature supporting your torso weak? Speak with a trusted physician about your concerns to help you stay healthy so you can dance at your best!

For more information, read this great article about Bone Health for Dancers: www.danceinforma.com/USA_magazine/2011/12/03/bone-health-for-dancers

Dr. Mamie Air is a physiatry fellow in interventional sports and spine at New York City’s Hospital for Special Surgery

Photo (top): © Zafi123 | Dreamstime.com

All material included in Dance Informa is provided in good faith. It is derived from sources believed to be accurate and current as at the date of publishing. Dance Informa does not take responsibility for any information deemed to be incorrect. Always check with your doctor if you think you may have a health issue.

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