Massage for Dancers
“The massage therapist is part of a dancer’s whole physiological team”
Massage is not just about relaxation. I will look at how to make a muscle, joint and tendons fire more effectively and even decrease injury and spasm.
Dancers most often get a Swedish massage, which helps create a relaxation response in the body, or deep-tissue massage, which helps to reshape patterns of tightness by working on fascia (the connective tissue that wraps each muscle and groups of muscles, much like the casing of a sausage).
OVERUSE INJURIES IN DANCE
Overuse injuries occur because muscles are worked hard during training, rehearsal or performance and are not rested fully. In the next class, rehearsal or performance the muscles are not fully recovered from the last session. It is as important to have a high quality recovery practice to maintain well being and enhance your true potential. Overuse is the most common cause of muscular imbalances and injury in dance. If these are not noticed early on they can impair performance or worse can lead to chronic injures.
RECOVERY FROM PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
Instinctively the body heals itself it performs the recovery process through circulation of the blood flushing out waste products that build up in the muscles during intense physical activity. It provides nutrients and repairs any tissue damage however this process takes time and a rest period is necessary. Dancers’ schedule often makes this required rest period very difficult to achieve. Massage is a safe and effective method of speeding up the recovery process.
- Prevent Injury
Massage is considered to help prevent injuries by assisting the body to stay supple, de-stressed and in better shape. As there is less tension in highly used muscle groups they react better to the ‘stress’ of dancing.
By allowing the muscle to work more freely, massage helps prevent imbalances that lead to injury. Massage is one part of injury prevention and rehabilitation, along with exercise, nutrition and sleep.
- Speed Up Injury Recovery
Massage is often associated with injury recovery, depending on the type of injury. I often recommend massage as treatment in recovery from injuries which produce swelling in muscles and joints. But it is important to have a good understanding of the injury before applying massage, because a deep massage to a freshly injured muscle will only increase the problem and damage the muscle fibre further.
Sometimes a dancer may use their ‘turn out’ muscles to such a degree that it prevents range of motion in the hip. Recommended stretches and massage to correct the one sidedness of the training can help. (Always think of doing the opposite moves from the normal class movements. And please always stretch after training/rehearsal or performance as it will help prevent soreness the next day and keep your muscles supple).
- Increase Range of Motion
Massage won’t make your muscles more flexible (stretching will), but it can help relax them. It won’t elongate the muscle, but if you are more relaxed, you will be able to move the limb or joint more easily, and that could increase your range of motion. Some dancers ask for a 15-minute session before an important rehearsal or performance if they have a tight muscle. They’ll notice their jumps will be higher or they flow more throughout the performance. They feel they have their range back, but it all depends on how fatigued they are and what else is going on with their body.
- Flush Toxins
If you want to get rid of toxins, you’re better off focusing on hydration although massage does help. Drinking water right after a massage will help to get rid lactic acid within the body, but staying hydrated will help your body function better throughout the day and rehearsal or competition.
- Relieve Inflammation
Lymphatic drainage is proven to decrease inflammation, but that work requires a very light touch. Since a dancer’s schedule is often packed, inflammation is more efficiently treated through a light massage, icing and medication.
- Provide Stress Relief
Massage has been proven to help reduce both physical and mental stress. The best thing massage can do for you is to help you relax your body. It is also known to improve sleep and help decrease depression and anxiety.
WHEN SHOULD DANCERS GET A MASSAGE?
A dancer’s body is highly tuned and sensitive, and a deep massage with strong release techniques can make our body parts sore for a day, until we reap the benefits. It can also give us the feeling of being in a different alignment or ‘place’, so that lifting our leg up or doing a turn could feel completely different than before – we might feel ‘out of sorts’ or ‘out of tune’ so to speak. If that is the type of massage you need, please make sure you get one just before a rest day, but not on a performance day or even a day before as it can ‘throw’ you. However, shorter massages on local areas such as the calves or thighs, if you are getting cramps or lactic acid build up, are beneficial right there and then even during rehearsal/ performance.
There are special techniques I use with fellow dancers to gain quick recovery during a performance. There are stretches specifically designed for the dancer’s body, and other methods of targeting lactic acid build up which can be extremely helpful when applied at right moment.
BENEFITS OF MASSAGE FOR DANCERS:
- Massage aids and speed up the body’s natural recovery process
- Massage helps prevent injury
- Massage enhances performance by releasing muscular tension
- Massage aid the healing process with minor soft tissue injuries