Our awesome team of guiding physical therapists and volunteers are all smiles at our dance injury screening!
On March 23rd, SPEAR partnered with Columbia Dance Medicine to offer a free dance injury prevention screening for the NYC community. Our team of physical therapists, all of whom themselves dancers, pulled from a wide range of experiences with ballet, modern/Horton, musical theatre, salsa, and Irish step, to help participants evaluate their strength, flexibility, endurance, and balance. The team also recommended effective warm-up and conditioning practices, while interviewing dancers to better understand not only their individual habits, physicalities, and experiences, but also the unique demands of their styles and training regimens.
Ninia Agustin, PT, DPT and Clinical Director of our Plaza Hotel clinic
“Dancers are an extreme outside of the normal patient population,” says Plaza Hotel Clinical Director Ninia Augustin PT, DPT. Oftentimes they come in with entirely different needs and skill sets from the average patient, such as hypermobility and pointework. Their goals when pushing their bodies to new extremes, or their desires not to miss out on training opportunities, can often be unnecessarily pitted against their doctors’ and therapists’ interests in helping them take the time to recover from injuries. “Sometimes I’ll put my hat on, and I’ll say, as a dancer yes, as a PT maybe not, but maybe [we can] figure out a way to mesh the two worlds together; I think that’s what’s lacking in the healthcare industry.”
When beginning training at a very young age, dancers can also develop a higher pain tolerance and have trouble distinguishing typical soreness associated with strength building, from potentially concerning signs like sharp pains that could indicate something is wrong. “They’re so hyper-aware of every minutiae in their body, and they…don’t necessarily have the verbiage to explain how they’re feeling,”says Dr. Julia Iafrate of Columbia Sports Medicine. This can make it all the more difficult to address potential issues before they become major injuries requiring extensive rehabilitation, or to even know what questions are most useful to ask when going about training.
A common question in the ballet world that arose during the screening, for example, is the minimum age at which young dancers should begin dancing en pointe, requiring them to carry all their weight on the tips of their toes. But as Dr. Iafrate points out, the answer often depends on many factors, including arch strength and ankle stability, that are more difficult to assess and do not consistently correlate with age categories. And while for many years, most forms of dance have incorporated static stretching into students’ warm-ups to improve flexibility, it is now common knowledge among most PTs and sports medicine doctors that static stretching, if not preceded by proper warm-up, can actually lead to more injuries.
Our injury prevention screenings aim not only to help participants become more familiar with their own bodies, but to educate dancers, parents, and teachers. With the knowledge they acquire, they may better articulate and analyze their biomechanical inefficiencies, and thus make the most of their physical therapy sessions. SPEAR’s budding dance medicine team hopes to encourage dancers to invest in more long-term relationships with their physical therapists so that we can work together not just for recovery, but for improved prevention of major injuries as well.
Gwen Giffard, PT, DPT, leads a dancer through an airplane test
Upon reflecting on what she learned from the screening, SPEAR physical therapist Gwen Giffard laughed and remarked, “I learned it’s really hard to do an airplane test.” By the end of the screening, one thing that was very clear is the importance of finding opportunities to improve communication between dancers and PTs to improve dancers’ overall health and the longevity of their abilities to continue on with their passion.