Before I begin: this is not meant to be a guide to prevention or recovery. This is meant to be an opinion piece, based on personal experience, about how to mentally cope with an injury that interferes with your dancing. The fact is, you will probably injure yourself at some point – either moving the wrong way or from overuse, even if you cross-train and wear the right shoes(1). It happens to all athletes. If you hurt yourself, talk to your instructor and see a doctor and/or a physiotherapist/osteopath.
As someone who is still working out the kinks of a back injury, there are two things I’ve learned the value of: patience and positivity.
To give some context, briefly: last year I had sciatica because my spinal alignment was off and pinching the nerve. We don’t know exactly what caused it, but my physio is likely correct when she says I literally overdid everything and wasn’t stretching properly. I ended up on medication for a few weeks to help relax the muscles and calm the nerve. Then followed months of working at getting my alignment back in place and waiting for the nerve to settle fully. In my case, I was still able to dance though I scaled back and wasn’t able to move properly because my muscles were all locked up. Nonetheless, what I could do kept me sane. But it still felt like forever, especially when it was weeks before I could sleep through the night.
Recovery takes time. And if you’re over thirty (like me!) then your body may take longer to heal than it used to. Never having previously experienced an injury of this nature, my first response was a panicky “Why is it taking so long??” It took a lot of conversations with my wonderful physiotherapist to finally get it into my head that no matter how much I want my body to hurry up and heal, that won’t make it go any faster. What do I need? Patience. And the drive to keep working at it, keeping up with my exercises and stretches, and listening when my body says it’s tired.
Positivity is also so important. The interesting thing about the body is that your mood can positively or negatively affect it. When you’re anxious (and in the beginning I was horribly so) it irritates the nerves which in turn leads to more pain…which leads to more anxiety and a vicious, never-ending cycle unless you can change your thought-pattern. As my physiotherapist said to me, “You need to relax.” It’s easier said than done. But the point is, it can be done. I found that breathing exercises helped -- the added inflow of oxygen through deep breathing helps to relax the mind and body -- as well as eating well and being with my friends. And with the support of those friends, my family, and super-fantastic dance community (you know who you are) I was able to change my mindset and focus on what I could do instead of what I couldn’t. It helped and still helps.
Every recovery is different. It’s been over a year. I’m not quite there…but every day gets me closer. And hey. I’m still dancing. By the fall of 2016 I was back to doing my normal dance activities. By January of 2017 the nerve was just about settled with only occasional flare-ups and I was able to move better, thanks to stretches and exercises my physio and Pilates instructor gave me (2). At the time of writing this article (November 2017), my movement is the best it’s ever been and my back is getting stronger.
So if you hurt yourself…take the time and care you need. Be patient. Be positive. Work hard at recovery. And you’ll be back on the floor soon enough.
I’ll see you there.
(1) Which you should absolutely do. Strength and flexibility training, and a solid pair of shoes that you are comfortable in won’t prevent an injury but they certainly minimize the chances and potential severity.
(2) Always talk to your doctor and/or physiotherapist before starting anything, but I found that yoga and pilates-style stretches & exercises, in conjunction with what my physio gave me, helped to restore my mobility and give me added core strength.