Friday, 13 May 2016

Bellydance training with an injury

This post partly comes out of my recent post about managing my EDS for dance, because managing injury is an enormous part of being a dancer with EDS, however it is also something I have been meaning to write about for general reasons, because every dancer has to deal with this sometimes, whether it is because of ongoing issues, accidents or even a bout of flu.

Illness or injury has the potential to completely mess with your training schedule, knock out your opportunity to rehearse for performances and for a teacher upset your schemes of work and student progression as you plan your classes around your own physical limitations.

When an injury happens, you have to rest it, but I am always aware that while I am doing so, there is a risk of muscle deterioration, which means slipping backwards in terms of the joint stability I have worked so hard to build up, not to mention my general dance conditioning.
I'm still trying to work out a solid strategy for injury management, but these are the things that have worked for me so far.

Recognising the problem, and not denying it.

Denial is really easy when you are used to regular twinges. It's easy to think "oh that's just a little sore, it'll be fine" and carry on. Well, it might be fine, but even if it is, taking care of it won't do any harm. I use a warming muscle rub on anything that feels tight or sore. It aids recovery from post-conditioning aches and I've also found it helpful for stiff and sore ankles.

An injury needs rest, elevation and ice asap, I usually take some ibuprofen at the time, to help stop the inflammation. There really are no prizes for being a hero here - admit there is a problem and deal with it before it turns into a bigger problem.

Then you have to actually rest it. Princess Farhana wrote recently about how dancers just can't leave their injuries alone. Stop poking it!

Modifying exercises

In my work as a perinatal yoga teacher I am used to finding workarounds for conventional exercises. There's no shame in using props or adapting to reduce impact or exclude a joint that won't tolerate the position. Usually modification means compromise in terms of results, but it's a much better option than doing nothing, and definitely a better option than continuing to work a damaged or weak joint.

Splitting the body

In general I try to work different areas of the body on different days. Core almost always happens, but I have legs days and upper body days and abs days. This is fairly conventional in fitness and allows recovery inbetween. If I have an ankle injury, I will focus on the other areas for a bit. I also keep my conditioning symmetrical, because an injury on one side of the body will strain the other, so that will need some respite and care too.

When I was pregnant and suffering with pelvis instability, I started drilling arm pathways, with weights, while sitting on a fitness ball. There's often a way to rest an injury without stopping completely!

Splitting the work

On reflection I have realised that I can split my practice into a variety of levels, each with their own internal goals, this helps a lot because it means I don't have to drop everything when one part is compromised.

  • Basic fitness for cardiovascular and metabolic health - this is walking and generally being active.
  • Strength and stability for joint health - simple hatha yoga, restorative yoga, basic pilates, wobble board etc.
  • Strength and conditioning for dance - pilates, interval training, ashtanga yoga.
  • Dance training - drills, technique and rehearsal

Only the first two are essential for managing my general health (though the others do make a marked difference). It is possible to "mark time" in recovery periods by identifying the activities that make the most positive difference for the least harm.

Managing the domino effect.

A couple of months back I sprained my right ankle, I'm not entirely sure how. A couple of weeks later my left ankle buckled under the pressure of compensating for the weakness. It just gave way underneath me and I sprained that too. The right was almost better, but after a day of the left being weak, it got much worse again. Another day later and I was suffering from excruciating muscle pain up the outside of my left calf and the inside of my right quad - as a result of losing the balance and alignment in my walk. The quad imbalance affected my kneed and my kneecap subluxated...

This is a pretty usual pattern in my experience and it characterises how devastating a relatively minor slip can be as well as reinforcing how important to rest.

I've become very aware of how the body compensates for injury, usually by compromising alignment. Appropriate use of supports and splints helps. If I damage one ankle/foot, I will use a support on both, to protect the good foot. I also use a lot of muscle rub, massage and stretching to prevent tightness and imbalance in the muscles that support the joints.

One of my postnatal yoga clients was asking me about using supports for an injury just this week. In particular she was concerned about relying on the support and losing the musculature that would naturally provide support. Ideally what you need to to is talk to a physiotherapist who can let you know exactly how to use supports appropriately. So... this is my personal experience and not advice... When I feel a weakness or pain, I use a support, always. Why? Because I have found that continuing to use a joint that is weak, wobbly or generally unreliable leads to further injury. A slight weakness due to reliance on a support is a much lesser issue than the risk of aggravating the injury or causing further injury. And I'm not convinced that a support will cause weakness, if your muscles/joints needed the extra help in the first place.

Total rest.

Sometimes the best thing to do is just stop and give yourself some recovery time. If you are ill, you need to get better and while in some cases taking a half hour to walk in the fresh air might do you the world of good, in others it might just prolong your illness and keep you out of training for much longer.

It's OK to have downtime, and downtime doesn't have to mean a break from dance entirely. I've written before about how you can improve your dance by watching and analysing video footage. So that's a start. There's also other things like mapping music for choreography (I hate this job but I've found it essential for really understanding all my performance music, improv too), or even just listening to tracks through services like Spotify or even on YouTube to find your next performance peace.

As a teacher I use downtime to plan lessons, or to type up my rough lesson plans, choreography and workshop notes from my notebooks. Or sort out the dreaded accounts.

You could also work on zills or drumming, or costume making. There's lots of ways you can turn a bit of time off your feet into genuinely productive work.

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