Can we stop an injury before it starts? Part 2: Acute Injuries

In addition to being the founder and director of Greenstone Belly Dance, Siobhan is a Rehabilitative Exercise Specialist and Strength & Conditioning Coach. This blog post was originally written by Siobhan for her Safe Dance Column in the Middle Eastern Dance Association of New Zealand (MEDANZ) March 2018 Newsletter. You can join MEDANZ to access their newsletters and find out more about MEDANZ here.  Photos thanks to Nathan Pigeon of Montréal, Canada, and Vera of You can read Part 1 of this blog series here.

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In Part 1 of this blog series, we covered some tips to prevent (or mitigate) chronic injuries. But what about acute injuries? An acute injury is the kind of injury that catches you by surprise – you slip on a veil and bang your knee, or twist your ankle on some uneven ground while you’re out running. These injuries are also known as “sudden onset” injuries.  Often, these injuries seem unpreventable. However, that’s not exactly the case…

While we can’t control everything, and injuries do happen, you might notice that some of us tend to become injured more often than others. While some of this can be due to genetic factors, there are things we can do to help prevent injuries and increase our injury tolerance levels, even in the case of acute injuries.

Here are three quick tips to help prevent those injuries that take you by surprise.

1. Warm Up – But do it Right
A warm up doesn’t need to be super long, and certainly won’t be the same for every person or dance session. In the past, exercise scientists were actually quite divided over whether warming up did prevent injuries. In the last few years, evidence has been emerging for a “neuromuscular” warm up1. This is just a fancy way of saying that we should “wake up” the muscles and joints we’ll be using in that dance session.  As dancers, we’re on our feet, so warming up the lower body is key. But consider what else you’re focusing on that day. Will you be doing a lot of mayas? Warm up the obliques (your side abdominal muscles). Working on a lot of level changes? Put some squats and calf raises into your warm up. Preparing for a back bend practice? Start with some gentle abdominal and back strengthening.

Siobhan teaches belly dance to women of all ages, shapes, and sizes in the Netherlands and beyond.
When you’re warming up at the start of your practice session, be sure to warm up the muscle groups that you’re going to be using in that session to help avoid injury.

2. Stay Strong
“Ligament dominance” is a cause of many sudden joint injuries. This is the name for when the muscles that cross our joints are not strong enough to keep the joint stable, so the ligaments have to try and do all the work. A common example is when the hamstrings, quadriceps (thigh muscles) and calves (lower leg muscles) are weak, and the result is a more easily twisted knee, or ligament sprain. Training our muscles helps them to become the main joint stabilisers (as they are meant to be) in order to protect both our ligaments and joints. If you want to cheat, get that strengthening into your dance warm ups! We start losing muscle mass after age 30, so it is recommended that everyone strength trains (lifting weights, body weight exercises, using weight machines or resistance bands) at least twice a week, with 8-10 different exercises for a full body workout2.

3. Get Some Balance
Better balance has been found to be associated with a reduced risk of injury3. There are a few different ways to improve your balance. Strengthening your core (abdominals, back, and glute muscles), working on single-limb or “uneven” exercises like lunges or single-leg calf raises, or even standing on one leg with your eyes closed. There are a lot of different components to balance, and in addition to helping us reduce our injury risk, it’s also important for our dance abilities!

1Herman et al., 2012, The effectiveness of neuromuscular warm-up strategies, that require no additional equipment, for preventing lower limb injuries during sports participation: a systematic review. BMC Medicine.
2American College of Sports Medicine, 2013. Resistance Training for Health and Fitness.
3de la Motte et al., 2017. A Systematic Review of the Association Between Physical Fitness and Musculoskeletal Injury Risk: Part 3 – Flexibility, Power, Speed, Balance, and Agility. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research.

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