“I think I pulled a muscle." We've all said it, but what does it mean? There are many aches and pains that accompany a dancer's daily practice, but there are important differences between muscle soreness and a strained or “pulled" muscle. While both require a balance of rest and carefully planned exertion, a strained muscle has distinct symptoms that will tell you quickly that it is more than just back-from-vacation soreness.

“Muscles like to be warm," says Megan Richardson, a certified athletic trainer at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at the NYU Langone Medical Center. “They don't like to stretch and do explosive movements while cold." When you saunter into the studio before class and flop down into the splits, or practice your variation on cold muscles, you're setting yourself up for a strain.


Think of your muscle as hair pulled back into a ponytail. Just as your ponytail is made up of many hairs, your muscle is composed of many fibers. Strained muscles are referred to as “pulled" because that's what's happening. The muscle fibers get stretched to their maximum capacity, which can lead to tearing. According to Richardson, strained muscles fall into three categories. “A level-one strain would have a few fibers that have been torn or overstretched out of their normal resting spot," says Richardson. A level-three strain means all or the majority of the fibers have been severed and level two is somewhere in the middle. A medical professional will determine the level of the strain depending on the severity of the symptoms.

Symptoms

Pain when stretching “If stretching is painful, you need to minimize the range of motion," says Richardson. “If it's still painful, you might have a muscle strain."

Lack of strength What distinguishes a muscle strain from regular soreness is that a strain will always be accompanied by a lack of strength in the affected muscle.

Redness, swelling and bruising Any combination of these symptoms can indicate a strained muscle, but Richardson warns that not having these symptoms does not mean that all is well. The onset of symptoms may be delayed depending on how deep the muscle is. Every muscle strain will present itself differently.

Treatment

It is important to see a medical professional to have a muscle strain diagnosed and create a treatment plan, but the good news is that unlike ligaments and joint capsules, muscles can repair themselves. However, without the proper guidance, it's easy to push the muscle too much or too little.

For the muscle tissue to repair itself properly, it must be used (think walking, not petit allégro). If not, the body will create scar tissue instead of rebuilding the fibers. “Scar tissue is weaker and less pliable than regular muscle tissue," says Richardson, “so we become weaker and less flexible." However, if you push too hard, you can end up with a much more debilitating injury. Working closely with a doctor, physical therapist or athletic trainer is the only way to determine the best course for your unique injury.

Prevention

The best way to prevent a muscle strain is to warm up before dancing and avoid static stretches when your muscles are cold. A static stretch is any stretch that pushes your body to its flexibility limit and holds it there. Richardson says that dancers' propensity to do static stretching before class is a big reason for so many muscle strains in the hamstrings and hip flexors. Lying down in the splits or frog position before your first plié are classic culprits. “Research has shown that static stretches decrease the muscle's ability to contract and produce force," says Richardson. All static stretching should be saved for the end of class, after the muscles are already warm.

Richardson recommends dancers do dynamic stretching “where the muscle is moving through its range of motion, but not stopping at its end point for too long," to warm up before class. “So we're moving the muscle back and forth like an accordion," she says.

Two Dynamic Stretches for Warming Up

Hamstring “Bottoms Up"

1. Start in parallel position with your feet a little wider than hips-width apart.

2. Bend your knees and put your forearms on your thighs in a flat back position with pelvis in neutral or tilted slightly back.

3. With your back flat from hip bones to head, lean forward pressing your weight into your thighs with your forearms.

4. Keeping the back long, straighten your knees and let your head dive down toward the floor, pushing your weight into your thighs and reaching your sitz bones up to the ceiling.

5. Only straighten your knees to the point that you can keep your back flat.

6. Squat down as deeply as you can, keeping your weight on your thighs.

7. Go back and forth 10 times slowly.

Hip Flexor

1. Stand with your left leg front and right leg back in a wide lunge with the back heel lifted. Make your stance as wide as possible while keeping your hips square.

2. Keeping your back upright and your body centered between your legs, slowly lower your body as you bend both knees. As you lower, raise your right arm up over your head. Think of tucking your pelvis under and keeping your left knee over your left ankle. You should feel a lengthening up the back thigh and the hips into the belly.

3. Bring your arm back down to your side as you slowly straighten your knees to return to your starting position.

4. Repeat 5 to 10 times before switching to the other side.

For an extra challenge: Lean slightly toward the front leg side while scooping and hollowing out the belly like a Martha Graham contraction. Rest your hand on a barre or chair for extra support.

Tip: Don't hold any position. You should move slowly to the end of your range of motion and then right back out of it. No bouncing.

Ice or heat? If your muscle pain is accompanied by reduced strength, put away the heating pad. Richardson says to ice within 24 to 48 hours of an injury as a rule of thumb. "If it's a strain, there will be bleeding inside the muscle," she says. "Heat will increase that bleeding."


Show Comments ()
Photo courtesy of NYCDA

Competition and convention season can seem never-ending, but with access to the world's most popular teachers, the experience is invaluable and gives students the opportunity to learn from the best in the business.

Seth Robinson, who teaches contemporary and improv with STREETZ and REVEL dance conventions, has taught and judged thousands of dancers across the nation. Here, Robinson offers three tips to better prepare your students for dance's ever-popular, jam-packed events.

Keep reading... Show less

Alexandra Costumes' bold apparel has been making its way onto stages across the nation and people are noticing. Why do coaches love these costumes so much? With years of experience in the dance industry, the minds behind Alexandra Costumes know what works for dancers—comfort, performance and stage-worthy style.

Keep reading... Show less
Thinkstock
I'm a senior at a Performing Arts high school. I have been taking ballet for 2 years and started taking tumbling classes with a local gymnastics instructor. One of my jazz teachers advised me to stop as she said it would create bad habits. I enjoy the classes and think my dancing has improved. Thoughts?
Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Instead of letting 1920s stereotypes of black dancers define her, Josephine Baker used her image to propel herself to stardom and eventually challenged social perceptions of black women. Photos courtesy of Dance Magazine archives

In honor of Black History Month, here are some of the most influential and inspiring black dancers who paved the way for future generations.

Keep reading... Show less
Viral Videos

Growing up in Brownsville, Texas, Gene Tapia was a victim of bullying. "I had a stutter as a kid," he says. "I was chased after school and almost beaten up all the time." Shedding light on this sensitive subject was the inspiration behind Tapia's video What About Us.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Photo by TC, courtesy of Guillette

Healing through movement has proven to be a powerful salve for pain, trauma and even disease. In an effort to explore her own grief, dancer and writer Suzanne Guillette created a piece titled Moving, for You: A Tribute to Empathy. The project, which initially honored a collection of other people's written personal stories of grief and loss, evolved into a short film of Guillette's improvisational movement. As one story contributor Lindsay McKinnon described it, "Suzie is 'singing over bones' and allowing those painful places to live and breathe, dance and be free."

Here is Guillette's journey that discovers and celebrates empathy and joy through dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Via Jaime Guttenberg's memorialized Facebook page

Last week the dance community was heartbroken to learn that Jaime Guttenberg, a 14-year-old dancer, was among the 17 people killed on Valentine's Day in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Jaime trained at Dance Theatre in Coconut Creek, FL and was a member of the studio's DTX competition team. Dance Theatre owner Michelle McGrath Gerlick said this on Facebook:

You can join dancers across the nation in showing support for Jaime's family, her friends, and her dance community by wearing orange ribbons at competitions, in class, or at rehearsal this weekend. Our hearts go out to everyone who loves Jaime, and to everyone touched by the shooting in Parkland.

This article was orignally published on dancespirit.com.

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored