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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Worn-out medial meniscus in both knees!


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I'm 54, have been dancing for 3 years as an adult, been on pointe for two. This past summer after a week-long intensive, I began having an achy knee. It improved some when the school was on break, but when we had our first four-hour rehearsal for "Nutcracker" in October, both knees felt so swollen the next morning I could hardly bend them at all. I tried PT, but it didn't help a bit, so I went to an orthopedist. The pain was so bad that after a month I got a cortisone shot and a follow-up MRI. The conclusion: It was my meniscus (menisci??)--not torn, but so worn out as to be "as good as torn." He told me to do only what was required to get through Nutcracker, use ice packs and Aleve, and we'd revisit it in January. If I was still in as much pain, he said, we'd talk about surgery.


Well, I've been cast as the Fairy Godmother in our June performance of Cinderella, and I reeeeally want to be able to do it. Anyone know anything about this kind of knee surgery--was it a good idea for you, how long did it take to recover, etc? If I'm looking at surgery on both knees--wow, that could put me out for a while.

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No experience of the surgery here, but I suppose one thing to weigh up is whether you could explore what you can do in ballet class with minimal pain. Is it performance, rehearsal, pointe work, or something else that triggers excruciating pain? Then can you live with limited ability to dance without surgery?


No need to answer these questions on a public messageboard, of course, just thinking about what I'd be thinking in your position ...

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I didn't have meniscus surgery, but I did have major knee surgery back in 2000. My only thing to add to the "think about" pile, is that as a dancer it took me far longer to recover properly than just a normal person. My surgeon told me it would be a 6 week recovery - yes, but he meant 6 weeks until you can walk without crutches.... Not 6 weeks until you start thinking about rehab for ballet etc.


Doctors don't always take into account what we might need to do with our bodies to dance, (and why should they - we are unusual!) so it pays to ask a LOT of extra question, make sure there aren't any unforeseen impacts that could affect dance etc. What is fine for an everyday person may not really be a solution for a dancer if it restricts a joint or impacts something else. That said, it could be perfectly fine and be even better than before! But I would want to know before I made the decision.

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I had a torn meniscus and knee surgery for it about 3 years ago (I was 29). Mine was a work injury, and I wasn't dancing at the time (though my work was very hiking/walking intensive). They had me on my feet right away after the surgery, and doing PT several times a weeks for a couple months.


I didn't feel completely normal again until after about 4 months (I didn't start PT right after my surgery, though, so that may have been a factor).


However, everyone is different, and my circumstances were a bit different than yours are. I'd probably talk more to the doctor about it and see what s/he thinks your recovery would look like? If they do both knees at once, that'd be a lot different from my experience, and may be slower. I got the impression during my recovery that the more I could use my knee/leg, the easier and quicker it got. Two would limit your activity in that regard. Best wishes!

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Thank you for sharing your experiences. I have an appointment scheduled for Wednesday with a 2nd doctor who specializes in cartilage repair. This group has the Atlanta Ballet on their client list, so I'm hopeful! You've given me good questions to weigh as I go forward.

Edited by MaurineRuby
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  • 1 month later...

Here's an update: Got a cortisone shot in my right knee and made it through Christmas performances. Left knee then was so swollen (after "Nutcracker') I could hardly bend it at all. So I stopped class and went to see another dr. in the group to get another perspective. He was terrific--much more conservative about surgery. He gave me cortisone in that left knee, but the right knee was beginning to hurt again, so he put me on celebrex and sent me to a physical therapist. She said my knee cap is tracking off to the side because my outer quadricep is way stronger than my inner one. She said that was common in a lot of women, but especially in dancers. So I'm doing PT 3x a week for 4-6 weeks. They're holding my place in "Cinderella," but I haven't danced at all since mid-December and am really wondering, at my age, if I should risk ruining my knees to keep dancing. Oh my....


Has anyone ever gotten hyaluronic acid injections in your knees?

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Can't answer your questions about the hyaluronic acid injections, but I do think you are on the right track with the PT! Dancers do tend to have tighter IT bands which will pull the kneecaps off! It is vitally important that we balance our rotated work with oppositional strengthening and stretching exercises. keep it up, and remember that once the official PT sessions are over, you will need to continue on your own with the work.

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Thanks you, Clara76. Good to get confirmation from the ballet world that my physical therapist is on the right track!!

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  • 4 months later...

Maurine, can you share your update please? I *may* be in same position with you (different doctors with different diagnose on meniscus or kneecap tracking), and am considering hyaluronic injection as well.



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I hope all of you who are having knee issues have eliminated grand pliés??????

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Guest Pas de Quoi

I was privileged to take class from a former ABT soloist. He said that as soon as he was officially a part of the company, he stopped executing grand pliés in company class. He has a family predisposition to knee problems, and he and his orthopedist decided this would be a very wise course of action. He never felt twinges or pain or had knee injuries during his performing career and he feels his decision to limit the damage that could occur was a wise one.


In the classes I had with him, he told his students grand pliés in 1st and 2nd and 5th were optional but were not ever to be done in 4th position.


Grand pliés are a great strengthener, but that kind of strength can also be gained by other, safer, exercises.

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Scuballerina, yes, here's my update. I'm afraid to say that I am no longer dancing. :(


I tried to return to class--no grands pliés, Clara76 and PDQ!--but found it too painful. I am continuing to do PT twice a day and have received 2 of the 3 hyaluronic acid injections prescribed for both knees. That has improved things for me considerably so that I can now walk up and down the stairs normally and I am not in constant pain as I was before. They tell me the HA will last anywhere from 6 months to 2 years, and I will be doing the PT exercises once a day for the duration.


Giving up dancing has been truly dreadful, as you can imagine. Many months of being quite depressed. Watching "Cinderella" go on without me was so sad. But I am reading my way through Balanchine and everyone/thing tangentially related to him, and watching ballet DVDs while I work out on my new recumbent bike. I can swim, as long as I keep my legs still, and I can also use the elliptical machine.


My brain advises you that if you are hurting badly, don't continue to dance on a bad meniscus. (However, had I to do it over, I would have sucked it up and danced "Nutcracker" anyway, just as I did!) I came so close to being unable to use the stairs, walk my dogs, do any gardening at all. My heart is with you. I don't mean to be melodramatic, but really, giving up ballet has been the saddest experience of my adult life.


I truly hope your story will be completely different! If they recommend PT, be diligent. It really is very helpful. If that doesn't work, or if pain medication doesn't help, insist on HA. Many Drs won't suggest it, because it is very expensive and has about a 50 percent success rate. But you may be in the half for whom it does work!


Let me know how it goes! I wish you many pliés in your future!

Edited by MaurineRuby
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MaurineRuby, thanks for the update, even though the news is so difficult for you. I hope the PT works, and rehabilitation advances to the point at which you can begin to incorporate some sort of beautiful & purposeful movement (for that is what dance is) into your life.

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Hello Maurine.


I am so, so sorry to hear you've had to give up dancing. I can imagine how devastating that would be for you. I can truly feel your pain, as I went through something similar, although that was in my early twenties - I had to give up playing field hockey, something I absolutely loved doing then - because of recurrent knee injuries (a torn ACL, medial meniscus, some cartilage damage...it was not pretty). It was awful, and it took quite a while for me to figure out "What now". Fortunately, with time I discovered another interest which eventually grew into passion, something that wasn't hard on my knees. Maurine, if you're not able to return to dance, I really hope you will find something else that you love to do as much as you have loved dancing. And honestly, you never know - maybe you will be able to go back to dancing at some point, in some form.


For me, it took many years after my knee surgeries and PT until I could really even think about any other sports or ways of moving other than Pilates/gym, swimming and walking, because I had so many injuries to that one knee. But human body can be amazing! Much to my surprise, my knee(s) have considerably healed and gotten stronger over the years, and I'm able to do almost all of the "normal" kinds of exercise people would do, except for maybe long distance running or stuff that involves constant jumping. And the best part: I have been able to start dance, which was something I had dreamed of doing for many years! To be honest, when I started ballet classes about a year and half ago, I wasn't sure at all if I'd be able to do it. Yes, I was extra careful in the beginning, and my knee was a little achy first, but after a few months, it actually started getting better than it had been! I have been adding classes slowly, and I'm still doing my best to be careful with doing things safely, especially keeping the proper alignment and everything to do with jumping. Now, ballet has developed into the passion that other sports like field hockey were to me before :wub:


I hope my story might give you even a little hope that there's always a chance of injuries healing. As we all react differently and our bodies respond all differently it is impossible to say for sure what the outcome of this or that injury will be in the future. I hope things are going well with your PT and you see the improvement and relief from the pain. Thank you again, Maurine, for sharing your story, for it is a good reminder all of us with previous injuries to do things with care - at least I think I need the reminder sometimes not to get overly excited with things... :innocent:


All the Best, and let us know how things go! :flowers:


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Thank you, Redbookish and Peppy, for your comforting and encouraging posts. How to find some movement to replace ballet? That is my task. I am going to hang on to your words to remind myself to be hopeful. It's so hard not to think of myself as a dancer anymore. But I'll figure something out! Treasure every moment!

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