Body Care for Dancers: Neck Pain In Dancers

Posted on Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 1:27PM

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 third installment in which she talks about the risks of neck injury.

Dance is one of those activities where, because of the range and repetitive nature of the movement, one runs the risk for a vast number of injuries. Neck injuries are especially important to watch out for because they can aggravate shoulder, upper-back, rib, and sometimes even lower-back issues, and vise versa. Borrowing from Tom Meyers work, Anatomy Trains, you can easily see the connection between the neck and other parts of the body.

These fascial trains, as Meyer’s calls them, are crucial to understanding movement and in this case recovery. Anywhere along the chain one muscle group can affect the others. If anyone rides MUNI, a great example of this is pulling the cord to request a stop. No matter where you pull, the entire cord becomes taut. If the cord stays taut the function intended is no longer operational. In the body, the cord is the chain of muscles. A taut chain in the body can equate to loss of coordination, loss of strength, or loss of range of motion. And these in turn increase risk for injury. The neck has the largest range of motion of any of the spinal joints, and thus it is usually in the neck where the chain has its weakness link, and also why we see so many neck injuries in the dance community and elsewhere. Another fact to note is that the more movement you have in a joint the less stability/strength you have, the neck being a great example of this. We have to find balance in order to reduce injury risk. You must have coordinated movement of the neck with full range of motion and strength to avoid injury. Here are a few tests to see if you have risk of neck injury:

  1. Testing deep neck flexors. Laying on you back with your knees bent, tuck your chin into your chest. This activates the deep neck flexors. Now lift the head slightly off the floor and try to hold this tucked position for at least 15 seconds. Note that you should not feel any pain in your back or posterior neck area. If you do, you are not activating the neck flexors. If you have pain or start to lose form, stop the test.

  2. Testing the SCM. In the same position on your back, rotate your head to one direction and lift the head and hold for minimum of 15 seconds. This tests symmetry, and we’re looking to see that you can hold the position for the same amount of time on each side.

  3. Thoracic (mid back) rotation. Seated with your arms in a table top position rotate slowly to each direction. You should be able to get your arms parallel to either direction without any pain.

If you failed any of the above tests follow up next week to get info on basic exercises to reduce risk for neck injuries.

Lindsay Stephens DC, CCSP
Doctor @ Chiro-Medical Group
246 1st Street, Suite 101
San Francisco, CA 94105
P: (415) 495-2225

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