It was the end of class and we were doing petite allegro. The class was repeating the small jump combination all together to be sure everyone got it, and it was the second time on the left side. We were all sweaty and red faced from our efforts. Suddenly one of my students screamed and crumpled to the floor holding her ankle. She’d landed funny on her foot and now she was wincing in pain. I stopped the music as my assistant ran to get an ice pack. I gently eased off her shoe, elevated her foot, and applied the ice while another student cradled her head in her lap. Everyone looked stricken and a hush fell over the room. “Sit down”, I told them all calmly, “let’s talk about what to do when you get injured”.
Those who’d been injured in the past nodded wisely as I spoke, those who had not looked worried. I hoped my soothing tone would reassure them and give them some measure of peace. I am not a doctor, though one of my students is an Internist and another is an Occupational Therapist. I told them to correct me if necessary, but they didn’t interrupt, they all listened.
First, there is R.I.C.E.:
1. Rest. When you are injured, first thing to do is stop dancing. (And get out of the way of other dancers as best you can.) The hardest thing about being injured, worse even than the physical pain, is accepting that you are hurt. Whether you have an acute injury like this one, or the kind that starts with a tweaky feeling and progressively gets worse, the sooner you stop and rest, and even seek medical assistance the sooner your body can start to heal.
2. Ice. Apply ice to the injured area as soon as possible. Ice helps to alleviate swelling and pain. An ice pack or some ice in a baggie are good on the go. When you get home, an ice bath – a bucket of ice and water – is more effective for relieving swelling. A package of frozen peas works okay too if that’s all you’ve got.
3. Compression. Bandaging the joint or affected area can help keep it mobilized and keep the swelling down. (Don’t wrap it so tightly you cut off your circulation though.)
4. Elevate. Raise the injured part to slow the blood flow to the area which will also help keep it from getting more swollen. Ideally if you can elevate it to the level of your heart, that’s the best, but do what you can.
Go to a Doctor
When you have an acute injury, it is important to rule out a broken bone and get an x-ray. While breaking a bone can heal in about six weeks, if you don’t take care of it, can take much longer to heal properly. Injuries to muscles, tendons and ligaments can take even longer to heal. That’s why it is important to recognize when you are injured and get help sooner than later. Don’t massage an area if it is swollen. If you have swelling and pain that isn’t getting better with R.I.C.E., go to a doctor.
When I’ve had injuries, physical therapy has been incredibly valuable. It takes time, but I have avoided surgery and friends say they have as well. A specialized therapist will release the muscles that are gripping and give you exercises to strengthen where you are weak. You will learn more about your body than you ever considered, and often wind up stronger than you were.
Soaking Hot to Cold
This is a method of dealing with injuries that can be particularly effective. You ice the injured area for about five-10 minutes, then you apply heat and you switch back and forth between the two. It is a very effective way to speed up healing.
Taking ballet doesn’t guarantee an injury, but neither does playing it safe and never dancing. You could step off a curb wrong or someone could step on your foot on the subway. Physical activity does come with some risks, but with every injury you learn more about yourself and your body and it allows you to understand and connect with other people’s pain. Connection is the way trauma is lessened, by knowing you aren’t alone.
I finished talking to the class, and they all thanked me and seemed relieved. The injured dancer was in good spirits and everyone offered to assist her. We helped her pack her things, and she called a friend. Various dancers took her bags for her as one heroic student carried her down the four flights of stairs on his back. (!) We all made the descent together and waited until her friend arrived. She was getting help. She was going to be okay.
Join me for class on Tuesday 7-8:30 and Saturday 12-1:30 (where we take it just a little easier) I look forward to dancing with you.
* Photo by Megan McNally. Dancer Claire Von Enck of New York City Ballet.