Different sports and athletic activities engage different muscles in the body. Since ballet requires immense lower body strength, ballet dancers tend to develop problem spots and injuries from the waist down. Consider five common hot spots that affect dancers and how to cope with them.
Ballet dancers literally work their butts off. Repetitive squatting from pliés can make your backside ache. Gluteus Maximus and Minimus are also responsible for helping extend your leg in movements like développé. One way to minimize tension in the gluteals is to give them an adequate stretch before class. Try the Butterfly Stretch: Sitting on the floor, press the soles of your feet together and slowly bend forward from the waist.
Every time a dancer practices turnout, they are engaging the Piriformis, a muscle located deep in the gluteals. Basically, the outward rotation of the hips pinches the muscle, and can lead to a form of nerve compression called sciatica. If you feel a sharp or tingling pain down through your buttocks and hamstrings, you may be suffering from this condition. Preventative measures can be taken to reduce pain and inflammation in this area. Try this: Place your ankle on top of the opposite knee, and bend forward. You should feel a deep stretch in your buttocks and hips.
The hamstrings are a major muscle group; they help you to walk, run, and jump. In class, they also help you extend your knees and stabilize your trunk. Students will often complain of stiffness and pain in their hamstrings after class. Make it a habit to stretch the hamstrings every time you warmup. To increase flexibility, place your leg on the barre, and gently bend forward, reaching your chest toward your knee. Hold for at least 30 seconds. Afterwards, in the standing position, swing each leg back and forth, engaging the muscles in a dynamic stretch that increases circulation and range of motion.
4. Peroneus Longus
Sore calves? Constant rising to the balls of the feet in relevé and sous-sous can strain the Peroneus Longus. This muscle is a key player in arching and flexing your foot. Pointe students in particular are affected. Before class, try this: Facing the barre, point your toe on the floor behind you, followed by slowly placing your heel down. Then, gently bend your knee. This action stretches the achilles tendon and surrounding calf muscles. Also, practice a series of ankle rolls, drawing circles with your big toe clockwise and counter-clockwise.
5. Tibialis Anterior
Shin splints. The bane of many dancers’ existence. Every time a dancer lands from a jump, they place stress on the muscles and joints in the lower leg. If they land incorrectly, the repeated pounding can lead to pain and inflammation in the Tibialis Anterior, the big strip of muscle that runs along the front of the shins. To reduce the risk of shin splints, learn to land from a jump properly—toe first, then arch, heel last. To ease the pain, try self-massage trigger point technique: Press your thumb pads along the muscle, starting below your knee, following the muscle along the edge of the tibia. For added relief, try a topical analgesic like IcyHot.
These are just a few suggestions for managing pain. Ultimately employ whatever methods work best for you.