Our awesome team of guiding physical therapists and volunteers are all smiles at our dance injury screening!
March 23rd marked SPEAR’s collaboration with Columbia Dance Medicine on a complimentary dance injury prevention screening for the NYC community! The second of its kind, our team of physical therapists volunteered to help the dancers evaluate their strength, flexibility, endurance, and balance. Many of the advising physical therapists on site were dancers themselves, pulling from their own personal range of dance backgrounds in ballet, Horton, musical theatre, salsa, and Irish step to guide participants through a series of assessment exercises. The team also recommended effective warm-up and conditioning practices, while asking questions to better understand not only dancers’ 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 Clinical Director Ninia Augustin. 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 to train at such a young age, dancers may also develop a higher pain tolerance and have trouble distinguishing soreness that comes with building strength, from potentially concerning signs like sharp pain that may 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 consider.
A common question that arose during the screening, for example, is the minimum age at which young dancers should begin dancing en pointe (or on 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.
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.” As our PTs rose to try the exercises they had just guided the dancers through moments before, one element became clear: finding opportunities to improve communication between dancers and PTs will undoubtedly improve a dancer’s overall health, and thus the longevity of their abilities to continue on with their passion.
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.