Sustaining an injury as a dancer can be brutal, both physically and mentally. However, as professional athletes, injuries are going to happen. And while injury recovery looks different for every injury and every dancer, there are a few actions you can take to help your body and mind along the process.
Because whether you sustained an acute injury like an ACL or Achilles tear, or suffered as a stress fracture slowly developed over time, being pro-active about your recovery will get you back on stage faster.
Now, this list is by no means a comprehensive guide for healing. Only your doctors and physical therapists and give you that. However, this list of “Dos and Don’ts” will help you thrive throughout your injury recovery journey within the plan your doctor and PTs have put in place for you.
So, do you want to know what you can do to speed up and support yourself while recovering from an injury?
To the list!
DON’T Keep Going
The first and hardest lesson dancers need to learn about being injured is to stop dancing when the injury arises. Whether you hear a pop or you’ve “tweaked” something that’s bugging you, just stop.
Dancers struggle with this because we were taught to “just keep going.” Although we are athletes, we were trained with the “show must go on mindset.” But by “keeping going” we are putting ourselves at risk for even greater injury.
So whether you are bleeding through your pointe shoes, or dancing on a “tweaked” knee, just stop.
I promise, you will thank yourself for preventing further injury to whatever is hurting.
**If you read this and said “Yeah, but I’ve always been fine, I know my body” this bullet point was specifically written for you.**
Go to the Doctor – Get a Good P.T.
Once you’ve stopped, go see a doctor or physical therapist. There they can asses the injury and create an action plan for your injury recovery. The faster you find out what’s wrong, the faster you can start healing.
As far as finding a good physical therapist, read reviews or ask a friend for a referral. You want to make sure you are working with someone who understands your needs as an athlete and dancer.
If you know what’s going on, and don’t need to see a doctor, follow the proper rest protocols.
For example, if you sprain your ankle during petite allegro, stop. Once you’ve stopped, rest it, ice it, add compression, and elevate it!
Nutrition is a huge factor in injury recovery. Eating a diet full of nutrients, plenty of protein, and fiber promotes healing.
Don’t make the common mistake of underfueling your recovery. Now is not the time to “cut” to prevent weight gain. You’re body needs all the fuel it can get to heal whatever is broken. Instead, ensure you’e getting plenty of protein, antioxidants and vitamins through a healthy and balanced diet.
Besides, healing burns calories!
In fact, depending on the type of injury, you might need to adjust your macro split. Studies have shown that during injury recovery, about 55% of total calories should be delivered as complex carbs like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans.
Eating for recovery also means watching your alcohol intake. Alcohol has been shown to exacerbate muscle loss during immobilization. So, during injury recovery, consider cutting out alcohol or at the very least, consume mindfully.
Incorporate Resistance Training (Based on Doctor Clearance)
Whether you’re early on in your injury recovery journey or late in the game, incorporating resistance training will be critical to rebuilding and recovering.
Resistance training can be used to both strengthen the injury itself and strengthen any imbalances around the injury that might’ve led to the initial injury or could contribute to re-injury. It’s critical to your injury recovery that you follow whatever physical therapy exercises you’ve been given between sessions.
That’s why I recommend finding and excellent physical therapist or personal trainer (or both)!
In fact, did you know our very own Amber Tacy started her personal training journey by working in a physical therapy office? It’s true!
It’s one of the reasons Dancers Who Lift is so passionate about providing training that aides in injury prevention and takes personal interest in their dancers to create plans built around their individual needs. Want to learn more about that? Read about Amber’s journey to creating The Embodied Artist Academy here.
Work with a Mental Health Professional:
As humans who are passionate about moving our bodies (and might even do so for work) being unable to do so can impact our mental health immensely.
Between the lack of physical activity (known to release happy endorphins) and the temporary detachment from your performance community, injuries can leave dancers feeling low mentally.
Add on to the the possibility that the injury may have happened while dancing, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for anxiety and stress.
Working with a mental health professional throughout your injury recovery can help you navigate these feelings and get you ready to dance even faster.
Even after athletes have fully healed, hesitance to return to sport is common. From the fear of re-injury to the mental hurdle of trusting your body again, it’s normal to need help getting over these mental barriers.
So, if you’re finding yourself facing a long recovery, get yourself professional external support so that when you’re body is ready, your mind will be also.
Dancers are famous for pushing through injuries.
And I’ll be honest, a lot of that is not our fault. Unlike professional athletes who are praised for “making a comeback,” dancers are taught that we are replaceable. And often, dancers are taught that to be injured makes you “injury prone,” “damaged goods,” or even “unreliable.”
However, this couldn’t be farther from the truth! Research shows that most athletes actually report feeling stronger, more dedicated, and more physically focused after experiencing a long season of injury recovery.
And while no dancer wants to be in the audience very long, returning to dance before you’re body is ready can lead to re-injury.
The reality is, injury recovery takes time and rushing back to dance before your body is ready can make that recovery time even longer.
Can you imagine spending months in injury recovery, working to strengthen, build confidence, and gain clearance to dance again only to re-injur yourself and have to start all over again?
It’s highly possible. Depending on the type of injury, it can make you seven times more likely. That’s why it is so incredibly important that you listen to your doctors and physical therapists before you start dancing gain.
This is not meant to scare you. This is a reminder that one class, audition or show, is not worth sacrificing your body. Ever.
Feel Everything: Healing is HARD
Injury recovery is incredibly challenging mentally, emotionally, and physically. Take the time to feel all of the emotions.
Whether you’re feeling angry, sad, frustrated, exhausted, or even depressed, all emotions are valid and need processing in order for you to get back on that stage feeling confident and strong.
Just remember, this isn’t forever.
A good way to process those feelings is to keep a journal. It’s a habit that’s scientifically proven to increase mental health and we’ve seen the benefits of this in our coaches and athletes first-hand! New to journaling? Try these journal prompts to get you started.
Remember, In general, all is not lost:
In the midst of not ignoring your feelings, remember that all is not lost. All of the hard work you put in before your injury does not just disappear. All of the networking did and audition successes you had are not suddenly for nothing.
You will dance again. Casting directors will welcome you back. And you might even be stronger than before.
One study raised a beautiful point. During recovery athletes have an opportunity to improve and grow in ways they might not when healthy. I’ll leave this quote for you because it is *chef’s kiss.*
“While a successful injury rehabilitation process is crucial, it is important to consider how we can harness that time to not only help the athlete return to their pre-injury baseline ability but also leverage it as an experience of personal growth to aid in even further wellness and development. In fact, researchers have suggested that after enduring the challenge of a long rehabilitation period, many athletes report being more dedicated, focused, and mentally and physically stronger than they were pre-injury.” -National Library of Medicine.
Helping You Amidst Your Injury Recovery
Whatever your injury, I hope this list provides you with the information to create a game plan for your injury recovery journey.
And remember, while this list focuses on how to aide your recovery and get you back on your feet faster, take your injury recovery one day at a time. Not every day will be a slam dunk, and that’s okay.
The important thing is that you remember that taking the time to rest and heal is as important as showing up to class.
If you’re needing some help remembering that, know that you have a community right here at Dancers Who Lift ready to support you.
Joining Body Mechanics gains you access to our entire community filled with hundreds of dancers who are going through the same worries, struggles, and reaching for similar goals.
If that feels a little too official right now, that’s okay too. Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We love connecting with and getting to know dancers and fitness lovers alike.
Most of all, good luck in your recovery. Keep going, you’ve got this.