Dancer Health

Could Jumping While Recovering From an Injury Actually Make You...Stronger?


Once a dancer recovers from a foot or leg injury—usually via rest and physical therapy—it's time for them to slowly reintegrate into class. They may ease in by taking barre or doing only the warm-up before working their way up to a full class, depending on how they feel and their physical therapist's advice. One of the last movements to add back into a dancer's regular practice is big jumps, since they require strength and control to take off and land safely.

But what if it didn't have to be that way? New research suggests that using jumps as part of injury recovery could actually help dancers make a stronger return to training.

In a talk presented at the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science conference last October, physical therapists Emily Sandow and Sarah Edery-Altas of the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at NYU Langone Orthopedic Hospital proposed incorporating into PT sessions the impetus for a jump (the stretch and then quick contraction of the muscles around the ankles, knees and hips required for takeoff) and eventually safely progress back to full jumps. "In dance rehab," says Sandow, "we can introduce jumps at earlier stages so the dancer can start to recruit the specific muscles needed." To let these movements go unpracticed during recuperation, the researchers say, makes it more of an uphill climb when a dancer returns to class and leaves them more vulnerable to re-injury.

"You gain an advantage by increasing fast response fibers early on," says Marshall Hagins, physical therapist for Mark Morris Dance Group and senior clinical research associate at Harkness. Hagins wasn't involved in the study but says it has yielded some practical and applicable results. If you can work on the quick stretch-shorten reflex while still doing strength-building exercises, he says, "why wouldn't you do it?"

A measured approach to recovery

At Harkness Center's biomechanics lab, Sandow and Edery-Altas had a dancer perform a series of tasks including jumping on a force plate to measure the amount of force the body absorbs during different movements. They grouped these movements into three categories.

Low force Walking, simple plié relevés, prancing and pushing off from a lunge apply a load equivalent to the dancer's body weight. This means if a dancer has recovered enough to walk, she may be able to do other movements in the same category—like gentle prances through the feet, either standing or sitting in a chair. Prancing stimulates the quick stretch-shorten movement required for jumps without the full force of taking off and landing.

Moderate force If a dancer can run, a PT might consider having her skip, chassé or do small jumps on two feet, all of which impart force onto the body of about two times its weight. Sandow and Edery-Altas noted that dancers landed with less force doing a two-footed ballet sauté in first position than if they did a two-footed athletic squat jump, suggesting that the technique of landing by rolling through the feet (toe to heel) does, as you would guess, minimize impact.

Maximum force The greatest amount of force they studied—three to four times the body weight—is absorbed during jumps on one foot, from two feet to one foot and jumps that move, like a sissonne assemblé. (For the safety of participants, they did not test grand allégro jumps on the hard lab floor.) Movements like this should only be tried once a dancer has nearly regained her full strength.

Though further studies are needed, their analyses already offer helpful information for other PTs. The researchers see an opportunity to incorporate jumps and jump-like movements into injury recovery, provided care is taken to use correct alignment and not overload the muscles. This could involve jumps in a pool or jumps holding on to a barre to minimize the force of the landing.

"If you're a practicing clinician, you find a handful of things that work, and you tend to do them over and over," says Hagin. "Having an organized framework like this wakes people up, gives them new tools and helps them understand things in a new way."

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How does your studio handle enrollment for boys? Photo courtesy of Shona Roebuck

I recently set up a classical ballet partnering master class for my youth dance company. A pas de deux class, if you will—think Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker, etc., chock full of promenades, pirouettes and lifts.

I knew we would have plenty of girls interested in signing up, but enlisting boys is always a challenge.

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Photo by Sean Boyd, courtesy of White

Julie Hammond White is an associate professor at the University of Southern Mississippi, where she directs the dance education BFA. Here, the mother of two (Townsend, 10, and Dominic, 7) takes us through a typical week of juggling her personal and professional life. We caught up with White in October on the first day of work after her fall break. —Jill Randall


6:30–10 am Up and trying to rouse the boys. Throw in a load of laundry, pack lunches, set out uniforms. Drop kids off at school and head to the library. Finish planning advanced ballet.

10:30–11 Read 99 (?!) work e-mails. Taking a few days off is a bad idea…

11 am–12:30 pm Teach advanced ballet. I'm doing what I call "vitamin phrases": 2- to 3-minute phrases that focus on one aspect of ballet (this week, petit allégro).

12:40–1:55 Teach Methods in Dance Education. This is a course that all juniors, regardless of their major (performance/choreography or dance ed), must take to learn how to effectively teach dance in K–12, studios, higher education or community programs.

3:30–4 Grab a quick salad at restaurant across the street. Read letters from the promotion committee—passed the first stage of being recommended for full professor!

4–6 Grade DED 360 papers. These take a while. DED 360 is one of two writing- and speaking-intensive classes for the major. In their papers, students comment on eight areas of diversity as defined by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and find a media resource that addresses each to compare and contrast their views.

7–8 Grocery: bread, cantaloupe, Go-GURTS, apples, bananas, peanut butter, Nutella, pasta, cheese and oatmeal.

8–9 Laundry. Three loads. Also do a quick pickup of the house.

9 Boys home from day with Dad. They shower, brush teeth and set out their clothes for tomorrow. I sign homework and read them a story. Hugs and kisses, then bed by 10 pm.

10–10:30 More e-mails. Bed.

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