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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Living in low grade pain:(


BlleFille

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I dance quite a lot for an adult non professional; about four to five classes a week for about a total of 7 to 8 hours a week.

I don't get a lot of calf muscle pain anymore but seem to always have a minor twinge or ache, usually in the turnout muscles or maybe the toes as I am now doing pre pointe, sometimes in the neck, maybe even a slight ache in the groin.

My chiro doen't think that any of it is serious, in fact my bones are in super shape; nice and dense and no damage. He mentions bursitis for a shoulder pain I sometimes get but thinks it will go away. Not even sure what this is but when I looked it up it seems to be something that quite old folks get, not thirty somethings who are trim, fit and eat very healthily.

I have a sports injury doc and a chiropractor who seem to be very good, but not a huge amount changes under their care with all of this and I have been tested for everything under the sun, so know that there is no serious underlying problem.

 

Is all of this just normal when one dances? I know that in my adult class, almost everyone seems to have a hip, knee or shoulder issue.

 

I always thought that the key to staying young and fit was to exercise a lot and ballet has so much great stretching that it seems like the perfect combo for fitness and firmness.

 

Am I doing something wrong or is this how dancers live?

I saw a ballet documetary featuring a girl of only 14 who said she was in constant pain but then she was dancing that many hours in ONE day!

 

Anyway, thoughts or even advice would be most welcome on the subject of pain. :wink:

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This is just my opinion: for amateur adult dancers, it comes down to four things: knowing your body, your body condition; your kinesthetic awareness/talent and your technique.

 

I'm 45 and I don't do as many ballet classes as you did per week. Usually I will take 2-3 per week--I have taken a workshop in which I danced about 4 hours a day in a week. I went in recovered from a twisted ankle (none dance related) and experienced no further pain or injury. But it was just one week. I also take 2 other dance classes, but not in ballet--one is belly dance which I've found to be really great cross training with ballet--allowing me to work muscles and body parts that are not used in ballet. So in total I will take 4-5 classes per week and usually a gym workout 1-3 times per week depending on how much ballet.

 

That said I have never had any chronic soreness or pain. When I first restarted a 18 months ago I had achilles tendinitis. But I took a couple of weeks off, dropped down to a lower level and changed my shoes. Never had that problem again. My feet tend to be stiff in the winter and my legs in general are very tight. I've twisted/sprained my ankle easily (not dancing/walking). I do not do pointe.

 

I think that pro ballet dancers often do have aches and pains and injuries are just an occupational hazard. They are dancing 8 hours a day 5-6 days a week in many cases. It is to be expected--a human body can only do so much, even with a perfect technique.

 

I do not hear amateur dancers in my studio (there aren't many men) complaining about chronic injuries or pain, except for those that do pointe. Their feet always feel bad after pointe in some cases. Most of the dancers are in their 30s-70s in the studio--there are some 20 somethings--maybe people just keep their aches and pains to themselves? People take from 1-10 classes per week.

 

I personally do not think that being in constant pain would be worth it for me in ballet. I do not have the time or money to do 4-5 classes of ballet a week--well I guess I could substitute the other classes--but I think I instinctively sense that my body would not like more than 3 classes per week (at most 4) of ballet on a regular basis. Although adults can learn a lot of ballet and some can become quite good technically, I don't believe that all adults (and definitely I put myself in this category) are able to sustain a large amount of ballet training without suffering injury or experiencing constant aches/pains. You are more likely to be able to if you have already worked on flexibility, have strong feet and ankles and have a great teacher and learn the proper technique. But this is always harder to do it at age 30 or 40 than it is at 15 or 20. You are also dealing with bad habits or habits that are not compatible with ballet that are ingrained in your body and movement patterns. This is not an issue or is less of an issue with children or adolescents who have not had as much time to develop these contraindications that make acquiring the correct technique more difficult. Some adults will have been walking or sitting one way for 30-40 years. This way may be in conflict with ballet technique. It would take constant monitoring to change it. I expect most adults are not even aware of these habits and that they may be in fact the reason why they have a problem with a certain ballet position or movement.

 

Ballet can be for everyone but you have to know your body and your limits. I believe that most amateurs can be pain free if they know how much their own body can handle and monitor their technique carefully.

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I always thought that perhaps there is a curve on the feeling pain thing- I take classes in a college dance program (about 10 classes a week)- and I think my muscles are almost always sore (we're not going to talk about the toes after pointe!), and more often than not, I'm working through something that has been pulled or overextended! I think these things happen less as you get to know your body's limits more, but there is always the risk when you're trying something new. Sometimes muscles get sore if you're gripping your shoulders or clenching something that needs to relax too, like, holding too much tension, which is a different kind of muscle soreness than I get from doing something correctly in class, which I kind of think of as a good kind of pain (though, not to say, necessairly always pleasant). Also, there are a couple of things that seem to make a difference for me on the degree of muscle soreness after class; drinking enough water, for one, and eating enough protein and potassium foods (ie, bananas).

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Good point about the water and potassium. I got a cramp last year in my calf in class. After that for several months I ate a banana before ballet class! I also forgot to mention that I get massages every 3 weeks and also I use epsom salt baths and icy hot if I think I have had a tough class and might be sore. Then the next morning I am not. I know for me that I usually need 24 hours to recover. If by chance I will take an evening class and then a morning class (which I avoid doing whenever possible) the next day--if they are both ballet or another strenuous dance than I will be sore or stiff the next day. But to me soreness (which I try to avoid but sometimes you can't if you've taken time off or you overwork a muscle--but not to the point of strain) is not the same thing as PAIN. Soreness is just uncomfortable, muscles tight, stiff. It might be a little uncomfortable but to me it's very different from pain--I still try to avoid it though! Some of my classmates do not feel that they have worked hard enough unless they are stiff/sore the next day. To me that's masochism and since I'm not a professional ballerina and have to work and earn a living, I don't have time or want to be sore every day!

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I, and my class mates regularly seem to feel a bit stiff or sore; this is invariably after our Tuesday class which is a long (2,5 hours) hard class, we are using it to prepare for our upcoming exams. Although we will discuss our few aches, they are only because we have worked really hard and not ongoing pain. eg. we will "complain" of sore turnout muscles (or a sore bum) or sore calves if we have done a lot of releves etc.

 

Luceroblanco - I am intrigued by the epsom salt baths, do you literally just toss some epsom salts (like you would get from the pharmacy or grocery store) into your bath?

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I think the work level than one's body can tolerate can vary greatly from others of the same age, gender, background, etc. simply due to the huge variability in individual physiology, biochemistry, metabolism/recovery, etc. As a former athlete, coach, the child of an athlete and coach, it seemed like some bodies could simply tolerate more hours of exertion than others before starting to "protest" and that learning where your personal line between working hard and overworking lies, is a challenge :shrug: I think garyecht mentioned that "some people are just workhorses" and thrive on the more the better, but that is not true for everyone and allowances should be made (i.e., a dancer or athlete that can't tolerate as much activity and adjusts accordingly should be respected for knowing his/her limits and optimal training level rather than being pegged as lazy or not as dedicated).

 

If it feels like your body is protesting, it might mean you have to back off for a bit and let things equilibrate/heal and then adjust as necessary until you get that right balance. It's definitely a case where a little physical fatigue and some twinges seem to go with the territory of being a very active person but chronic pain is a message. My approach is to follow the model of “Add things until it starts sucking; take things away until it stops getting better” until you figure out where the golden zone is in between (shamelessly lifted from this piece: http://blog.frankchimero.com/post/28314087...ng-the-bed-you).

 

I am also intrigued by the epsom salts bath...and I love a good bath! Luceroblanco, I would also like to know how you use them (how much, etc.)?

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In retrospect, I think that one of the most valuable things I learned about my body from athletics (that carried over to dance) is a good feel and a good knowledge for what my optimal training level was and how to recognize and react to the signs of overwork, burnout, mental fatigue, etc. Most people who are enthusiastic and passionate about what they do have a tendency to overtrain, and that is a GOOD thing...but like most traits, it's a double-edged sword that must be managed (yeah, easy to SAY but so hard to do in practice!).

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I hurt less when I am dancing regularly! If I stop dancing, I get a lot more back pain and sore stiff hips. I'm 39, with RSI in my right hand from a previous job, and have a thera peutic massage every 2-3 weeks.

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For the epsom salt bath, I don't measure how much. I usually will buy a big box (I think it is 2 quart container for about 3 bucks) of Epsom salts especially if I'm going to be taking a lot of classes and I think I might need it. I will take the bath when I get home from class. I walk home from class--and will usually walk leasurely about 20 minutes--so I will stretch at the studio for about 10 minutes, walk home 20 minutes. By the time I am home I'm cooled down. If it has been a strenuous class I'll take the epsom salt bath, otherwise a regular bath or shower. I will usually put in about a cup I guess--i never measure it--just pour it in. There is also this stuff for feet but I haven't seen it here. When I was dancing in shows (not ballet) in NYC, it was recommended to us by my flamenco teacher. It came in a packet and was Dr. somebody's foot soak. She said it was good for relieving pain/soreness in the feet. She used it all the time and sometimes she said in her whole bath, not just foot bath. I remember trying it and it worked for tired feet. I don't know how it would hold up to feet on POINTE.

 

Wembley: I have heard other people say that too when they stop they hurt. Mostly people who are doing ballet more than 1 class a day. This doesn't happen to me. Maybe because I don't dance that much -- but as explained before I don't think my body could take it on a regular basis at my age now. I can take a week off and my body is fine. When I go back of course, I might be a little sore the next day after class but I never feel like I can't take a day off or some time off and have to worry about feeling any kind of pain.

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I don't think you need to live with pain dancing at all. I have danced intensely my entire life, and where there is pain, there is misalignment. Soreness *can* be common, especially coming back from a period of not dancing or if you are upping your schedule or your level, but not pain per se.

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BlleFlle I dance about as much as you do, and it's funny, I have said before too that I always feel something going on with my body. I wouldn't say it's pain though - to me, aching muscles don't count, even though they are quite uncomfortable and an ache is a variant on pain. The day after my first master class, I could barely get out of my car, which is quite low to the ground. :) I had to propel myself out with my arms, then stagger a few steps, and then finally straighten out and walk normally. I probably looked like I was 100 years old. :lol: Likewise, since I've gone up a level recently it has been the same... On days like that I like to get in a hot bath up to my neck, ideally with something that smells nice and relaxing. I find it helps a lot.

 

But "pain" pain, as in an injury like hamstring tendonitis (not fun), to me is a sign to be careful. Luckily, that doesn't happen to me often.

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I think age is a huge factor in injury and modest to minor pain. As an older person, I always say something has to hurt. I think for the last maybe 8-9 years something has hurt. It’s actually kinda interesting. I mean, it seemingly has no cause, responds to no particular treatment, and then seems to get better or disappear for no apparent reason, only to be replaced by some new small injury or pain. After a while you just accept it.

 

Where I dance, August is a month off. For years, I’d exercise reasonably hard up until the week before classes started. Then I would take a week off. For as long as I can remember, I would feel really good when I quit exercising. Perhaps there was something minor, but it was so minor I didn’t count it. And every time during that rest week, something would start hurting, usually something related to the back. Made no sense. Last summer I decided to just keep exercising. No week off. And you know what? No major pain.

 

As you age your skeleton changes. Those changes I think do affect how you feel.

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Thanks all for the interesting responses. I suppose that what I have is more akin to muscular pain, generally speaking. My chiropractor believes that the inner thigh/ front hip area pain is more muscular and I actually read an old thread on here about a woman having this type of pain for three years as she got used to turnout. I think that that may be what is happening to me.

I am in my thirties and am very fit and my bones are in great shape, as I said, so I am not sure that it relates THAT much to age as I have always had minor issues with things like sore hands from writing or typing or drawing from a very young age.

 

I have tried epsom baths as Luceroblanco mentioned and LOVE them! I also have begin to ice a lot.

What do you mean when you say "icy hot" baths?

 

Cutting down A LOT is not an option for me as ballet is one of the things that makes me happy. In fact it changed my life but I am thinking of stopping one class a week for now to see if that helps. I will also continue icing and bathing with the salts and maybe try massage as others have mentioned.

 

Maybe when I say pain, I mean more low grade muscle aches. I don't feel much when I am just hanging out on the sofa, more first thing in the morning like a stiffness and when I try to extend my right leg at the moment because of the turnout muscle.

 

I will also try more potassium as sunshineinmay suggested.

 

I have had x rays for my neck which has had minor achiness unrelated to ballet for YEARS and the doc said that it was perfect! It's a bummer not knowing why things ache and don't get better but he has said that it have very good flexibility and all my ranges of motion are above normal...so it's more the not knowing that gets to me. Ballet stretching seems to help a little with the neck.

 

In my class folks don't mind complaining a bit! LOL...we have a back injury lady, a groin and achilles woman and numerous others....and most are in their thirties though many are a lot older. I notice that some of the older ladies have issues like soft bottoms of feet from the slipper and need to wear padding on them.

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"Icy hot" is the creme or stick that you put on. It is not a bath. There are also generic brands. It is made of menthol and menthol salicylate. It doesn't really do anything to heal the muscle.

 

Another thing that has helped me is to do a very short series of yoga--like 5 minutes--if I do this a couple of times a day I am much more flexible. For the stiff feet in the morning (I used to have that) when I was experiencing it I would do a few minutes on my foot massager in the morning and evening (before bed). I also find that when I have a strenuous class what helps--after the epsom salt bath is icy hot on the legs and feet and then wear socks to bed. The warmer I keep my legs and feet throughout the day the better I am in class and less chance I wake up with stiff feet in the morning. The stiffness when I have it lasts for a few minutes then I guess blood gets circulating or something...

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Have you tried seeing a chiropractor for your neck? They work wonders on back and neck pain- even if it is muscular! My neck and back always hurt when I'm stressed b/c I hold so much tension in the muscles!

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