Whether they’re tap dancing or tangoing, professional dancers must be in peak athletic condition. And while years of training and rehearsing will help a dancer to develop the strength and flexibility they need, the strain it puts on the body can lead to aches, pains, and injuries that can seriously affect performance.
As a result, more and more dancers are now looking to massage therapy as a way of maintaining their conditioning. Many professional troupes now keep RMTs on-call as independent contractors, while some companies even employ their own full-time massage therapists.
Read on to learn how massage therapy college students can help dancers recover more quickly from injuries, and assist with their physical conditioning before and after performances.
As a result of spending long periods engaging in strenuous physical activity, dancers experience extra stress on joints, ligaments, and muscles. The most common areas of complaint are usually the legs and feet, but complex torso and arm movements can also cause issues. In addition, sharp, sudden head movements and routines involving risky lifts and jumps can lead to neck problems.
Since maintaining proper posture is crucial to performance, massage college graduates may also encounter dancers seeking correctional treatment for postural imbalances, such as anterior pelvic tilt or other dysfunctions in the knee, hip, and ankle areas. Other common complaints experienced by professional dancers include:
Depending on the specific nature of the injury, therapeutic massage modalities, such as joint mobilization, myosfascial release and trigger point therapy can all be helpful in reducing pain and inflammation, stretching joints and muscles, and restoring range of motion for dancers. Somatic techniques such as The Alexander Technique and The Feldenkrais Method can be useful for correcting postural dysfunctions.
Massage therapy can also play an important role in a dancer’s regular fitness routine. A short sports massage involving brisk stimulating strokes before a performance can help increase blood flow and flexibility, while a gentler session after an event can help speed up recovery times, making it especially helpful for dancers who undertake daily performances.
At the Okanagan Valley College of Massage Therapy, we work directly with performers at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre, giving students firsthand knowledge of the needs and stressors dancers face. This is one of many community events OVCMT students participate in during their training in Massage Therapy.
While students enrolled in a massage therapy program will not find many massage studies specifically relating to dancers, some research has been carried out. The most notable is a 1999 study conducted by the International Association of Dance Science and Medicine, in which 15 female university dancers received 30-minute massage sessions twice a week for five weeks, while a control group of the same size undertook relaxation therapy sessions.
While both groups reported improvements in mood and decreases in neck, shoulder, and back pain, the group which received massage therapy also experienced a reduction in cortisol levels, and showed an increased range of motion, including neck extension and shoulder abduction.
More recently, a 2013 case report published by the Center for Neurosomatic Studies in Florida found that a professional dancer suffering from lower back pain experienced significant pain relief over the course of a five-week treatment program, as well as a reduction in postural dysfunction.
Checking out therapeutic massage schools?
Contact OVCMT to find out more about our courses.