Coping With Injuries

If you’re in some sort of athletic endeavor like I am, you’ve probably already accrued a few injuries, whether they’re overuse injuries or injuries that happened while you were performing your sport. For me, I’ve gotten both from ballet.

When I first started ballet, I sprained my knee when doing a plie in second position because I was turned out beyond what I was able to handle. Then I injured my hip flexor, which is still a chronic injury today, by pushing my extensions beyond what they were able to handle–mostly on my left side since I tend to favor my right leg as the stance leg, though this is actually changing. I also had to have a piece of bone removed from my ankle thanks to pointe work revealing that I had os trigonum syndrome, something that you develop while your bones are still ossifying. And eventually I had to seek physical therapy for my hip flexor and have had to pretty much just quit middle splits because those aggravated the heck out of it. My most recent injury involved me falling on my ankle in pointe class since my shoes were so dead. Of course, it had to be my left one. So now I’m off pointe not only until it gets better but until I can afford new shoes. Oh, not to mention the copious amounts of muscle knots I accrued during the first two years of pointe work.

So as you can see, I’m no stranger to injuries. What all of these injuries have in common is that I never really rested while injured. Instead I simply had to modify how I approached ballet in order not to aggravate my injury. For my knee, I had to avoid jumps. For my hip flexor, I had to keep my leg lower than 90 degrees and still have to avoid middle splits. With that piece of bone in my ankle, I could neither do jumps nor pointe work. With those muscle knots, I had to modify jumping exercises and constantly stretch. My ankle injury just required a week’s rest. It hurts when it isn’t warmed up, but it’s otherwise fine during class.

Now my hip flexor injury is a repetitive-use injury, so when I actually started working out, doing physical activity other than ballet–and laying off the splits–I’ve noticed a huge improvement; I also have the physical therapy to thank. My lower back and hip would begin to kill me from prolonged standing, which is what I have to do a lot of at work. Now it’s not as much of an issue since I’m hitting up the gym about 3x a week, with ballet being 2x.

Regardless of what sport you’re doing, it is always, always important to condition your entire body. Sports tend to emphasize certain muscle groups over others, which can lead to muscular imbalances and thus a greater proclivity toward injury. My ballet school does do its best to rectify this problem through therapeutic ball classes and doing strengthening exercises after barre, like push-ups and back exercises, but since these exercises only take up about 15 minutes of class and ball class is twice a month, the rest of the 105 minutes are dedicated solely to utilizing muscles ballet most commonly uses. So it is important for me to hit up the gym and devote much more than 15 minutes to strengthening.

I devote about an hour at the gym. I do upper body exercises during some visits ever week, but I especially put focus on my core and other commonly used areas in ballet at every session. I always make sure to strengthen my abductors and adductors every time I go to the gym since these are used a lot. Injuries to these can cause all sorts of problems, from back problems to hip problems to knee problems. I also religiously avoid the leg press machine since it can aggravate hip and lower back problems.

With some injuries, you do need to take entire breaks from your sport. I cracked my pinky toe last summer, not from ballet, but from stubbing it against the wall. I didn’t take a break from ballet at all, which is something I should have done, but I was getting ankle surgery within a matter of weeks and knew I could rest it then. I also actually broke my second toe, not from ballet, but from being angry and kicking a car tire several times. I did take about six weeks off from ballet; however, it still wasn’t long enough, and I thought I would never be able to get back en pointe. Turns out all I needed was five more weeks off, which is what you get after the summer intensive anyway. So that  healed it, allowing me to return to pointe work…until the ankle injury.

But you don’t always get injured while performing sports. You can get injured in the gym if you put too much focus on one muscle group over others. You can get injured from poor form. The point is that if you are injured, you either need to find a way to modify your workout or take a break altogether. Yes, disuse atrophy occurs about two days after an injury, but that’s better than your injury never getting better because you won’t give it a rest. After surgery, it only took two months for me to be able to get back en pointe. You have motor neurons in your body, which is what some people refer to as muscle memory (but in reality it’s just brain memory), that tell your body what to do. Thus, if you begin using those muscles when they’re ready to be used again, your brain remembers what you’ve used those muscles for. You’re then going to be able to get back to where you were faster than when you first began.

I say all of this to point out that I’ve had plenty of injuries, but none of them ever deterred me from doing ballet.

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