How to Take Charge of Your At-Home Dance Health

June 3, 2020

Despite all pandemic-related odds, you’ve more or less managed to keep up a dance training routine, whether it’s via your home studio’s Zoom schedule, Instagram Live classes, or Mark Kanemura’s living room dance parties. Slow. Clap. That’s a feat to be celebrated. But dancing in less-than-ideal environments—i.e., pretty much every at-home space—can take a real toll on the body, meaning lots of aches, pains, and at least a blister or two.

Here, we’ve rounded up all our best resources and expert connections for advice on what to include in your at-home dancer first aid kit, and how to handle (or even better, prevent) minor injuries that may come up while you’re working hard from home.

Prevention: Modify and Moderate

First things first: Do everything you can to make your at-home training regimen as safe as possible. According to Dr. Lauren Borowski, a sports medicine specialist at NYU Langone’s Orthopedic Hospital and a physician at Harkness Center for Dance Injuries, “This is a good time to check in with yourself and make sure you’re working appropriately based on your own anatomy.” Without the safety of sprung floors and the comfort of having a mirror to check your alignment, bad habits like forcing your turnout or poor jump landings can lead to injuries.

Be willing to modify exercises when you’re taking virtual class­—it will benefit you in the long run. “Planning ahead as to what might come up in a class and how you can safely modify is so important right now,” Borowski says. Simple modifications, like swapping one-legged relevés for petit allegro, practicing jumps in parallel instead of turned-out positions, or holding balances instead of doing full pirouettes can still activate important muscle groups while lowering your risk of injury. “This period of time is great practice to develop spatial awareness in general, because nobody in a crowded class or audition likes getting bumped into,” Borowski says.

Be thoughtful about your new #quaranhobbies too. Whether you’ve picked up running, yoga, or any other form of cross-training, moving your body in a new way could also lead to new aches and pains. “Many yoga and Pilates teachers are offering one-on-one virtual sessions, which are a great way to make sure you’re practicing proper form and to receive better attention and corrections than an ordinary group class,”says Desiree Unsworth, a physical therapist at Westside Dance Physical Therapy in NYC.

With both familiar and new activities, moderation is key. “Whether you’re taking full rest days or doing a little bit every day, mix it up and vary what you do,” says Borowski. “You don’t need to take virtual ballet class seven days a week.”

If you’re looking to take injury prevention one step further, the Harkness Center is now taking their Injury Prevention Assessment offerings online. “We were never able to reach patients outside of NYC to do IPA’s, but virtually, we can do them anywhere now,” says Lauren McIntyre, a certified athletic trainer (ATC) at the Harkness Center.

Don’t let aches and pains turn into something bigger. (Getty Images)

Treatment Tips

Whether it’s a chance run-in with your dining room table or an old pain that starts aggravating you again, at-home injuries are bound to happen despite our best intentions. What should you do when they do?

Unsworth encourages dancers to always start with the basics of PRICE. “Protect the area, Rest, use Ice for pain management or inflammation, use Compression like tape or a sleeve, and Elevate the injured area to help with swelling and blood circulation,” she says. According to McIntyre, you can also never go wrong with foam rolling. “The body tends to reflexively contract to protect an injured area, and sometimes that’s helpful, but it also can cause more pain,” she says. “Using either a foam roller or tennis ball to self-massage can help release tissue so that it can be mobilized appropriately.”

When it comes to recurring injuries or pain, don’t forget the techniques that have served you previously. “It’s never been more important to do the exercises given to you by an athletic trainer or physical therapist,” McIntyre says. Borowski agrees: “It’s human nature to stop doing your exercises once you feel better, but the more regularly you do them, the more effective they’ll be.”

Finally, above all else, do what every dancer needs but almost never allows: rest. “A lot of dancers have more time on their hands now than ever, and they might be filling that time with exercise to manage anxiety. But there are other ways we can cope, like meditation and ensuring proper sleep and nutrition,” McIntyre says. “The body is quite resilient—sometimes all it needs is a little break to heal itself.” Borowski agrees that especially now, dancers have no reason to push through any sort of pain or irritation. “Now is a good time to tease out the exact movements and activities that may be causing you pain, and back away from just those things for a while,” she says.

When to Call in Reinforcements

All of our experts agree: If you’ve done everything you can to self-treat a minor injury, including PRICE, resting, foam rolling, and training safely, and you still don’t see any improvement after one to two weeks, it’s time to get a second opinion. “Self-treatment shouldn’t start with self-diagnosing,” McIntyre says. “Knowledge is power, and once you know exactly what’s causing the pain, you’ll know what you need to do. Otherwise, you could end up treating the wrong thing, and it won’t get better.”

Over the past few months, “telehealth” has taken off­—you may be surprised by how much healthcare professionals can diagnose just by using their eyes. According to Borowski, “Between gathering a patient’s history, looking at the injured area, and asking the patient to perform various movements, we can usually figure out the cause of the problem and how to best treat it.” Unsworth agrees, adding that “We have even more time with the patient than during a normal in-office visit, so we can fully explain what’s going on and why we’re doing what we’re doing.” While some healthcare facilities have started to open up again for private visits, even more have switched over to offer virtual visits—take advantage, if you’re able.

The Bottom Line

Although this strange period of #SocialDisDancing may feel isolating, you can also use this time to improve your overall wellness. Unsworth says, “This has empowered a lot of the dancers I’ve worked with to be responsible for their own care even more. They’re developing habits that they can use for the rest of their career.”