The Alonzo King LINES Ballet blog now features a biweekly column by Dr. Lindsay Stephens called Body Care for Dancers. In her posts she shares her vast knowledge on topics such as injury prevention, treatment and recovery. Read on for her second installment in which she offers tips for reducing injury through stretching.
#1: Breathing! Simple, yet effective. Holding your breath restricts core muscle control, decreasing stability and increasing the risk of injury. If a structure is unstable, supporting structures will take more load and wear down easier. In order to avoid this and maintain stability, one must have full control and movement of the diaphragm with a braced core. An inactive weak core is like running on dry sand: hard to get any traction and the energy expenditure is 10 times that of running on a stable, hard surface. I always tell my patients that if you can breathe through the movement pattern, you can control it. Practice breathing during your warm up so you can translate that to the technique and the choreography.
#2: Be specific! Stretch the muscle groups you need for the type of activity you are doing. It is also important to be well versed in ones limitations: What are your injury risks? Are you hypermobile or hypomobile? Which joints? Do you have muscle asymmetry? Weakness? Instability? These are questions you should be able to answer. If you find you cannot answer these questions, consider being screened by a musculoskeletal specialist to get the information you need. Knowing the answers allows you to cater your warm up to your body and ultimately improve your performance.
#3: Watch your form! It often seems that people are trying so hard to impress everyone else while stretching, that form becomes secondary. They’re so busy stretching the furthest, that they aren’t even stretching the intended muscle groups any more. It’s not how far you go, but how great your form. By pushing yourself without perfecting your form first you are risking injury to your back, knees, ankles, hips, and more. It puts unnecessary strain on the supporting structure and deconditions stabilizing muscle groups. If you are new to dancing, let your instructor know so that you can get the guidance you need – a great teacher will correct form during stretching as well as during class. Protect yourself from day one and injury will be a preventable factor.
#4: Use your time wisely! Surprisingly, you don’t need to stretch for as long as you think. Efficiency is key! Being mindful, doing the right stretches with the correct form, and catering the warm up to your needs, dramatically reduces time. Most stretches need to be held for a minimum of 15-30 seconds and at maximum one minute. This typically depends on how restricted the movement is or how tight the muscle groups are. My number one rule: stretch until you feel the muscle relax/give into the stimulus. If you go by this rule you usually won’t go wrong. Total time also depends on the purpose of your warm up: for ballet the warm up is longer due to increased physical demands, however other forms may require shorter warm ups due to decreased demands on the body.
Just remember: breathing, specificity, form, and time management. If you can get these basics down I promise you you’ll reduce your injury risk dramatically.
Thanks for reading my blog. I will be back next month to talk about neck pain in dancers.
Lindsay Stephens DC, CCSP
Doctor @ Chiro-Medical Group
246 1st Street, Suite 101
San Francisco, CA 94105
P: (415) 495-2225