Updated: Feb 12
Raise your hand if you’ve experienced some kind of foot or ankle injury (tendonitis, sprain, fracture, etc) as an Irish dancer? Unfortunately, many of you probably just raised your hand.
When you are injured, it’s critical to listen to your body (and your doctor!) and take enough time off from dance to let your injury fully heal, but this doesn’t mean you should step away from activity entirely. Incorporating no-impact strength and mobility training in this recovery period can not only make your return to impact activity--like dancing--easier, but also improve your dance techniques and reduce your risk of re-injury.
As you recover from an injury, one of your main focuses is preventing that injury from recurring once you return to activity. Including strength training programs has shown to be an effective way of reducing the recurrence of all injuries in youth athletes--including acute (sudden) injuries--like breaks or sprains (Myer, G.D. et al, 2011). Be proactive in your recovery and prevent future injuries by strengthening weak or imbalanced areas.
Many dancers tend to be weak in their hips, glutes, and core, which are all key areas for stabilization and easy to strengthen with no-impact work. Additionally, once you have been cleared for weight-bearing activity without support (a walking boot or ankle brace), incorporating proprioceptive training is key to avoiding future injuries. Proprioception is the body’s awareness of where it is in space, and the most common way to train this system is through balance exercises. These exercises work both sets of muscles required for stabilizing your ankle--the extrinsic calf muscles and intrinsic foot muscles--while retraining your brain to actively use these muscles as stabilizers. With regards to ankle sprains, including balance training has been shown to reduce your risk of a future ankle sprain by 35% (Hupperets et al, 2009).
Improving Technique - Visualization
With actual dancing off-limits, you may feel unable to improve your actual dancing technique. Visualization is an important tool to use all the time but can be extremely useful while injured. Multiple studies have shown that a visualization practice can be just as beneficial as "real" practice in improving your skills (Narvacan et al, 2014). Take the time to run a mental practice, just as you would a "real" practice.
Including well-planned, no-impact strength training and visualization into your schedule while you’re unable to dance is not only a great way to improve your dancing technique, but can also reduce your risk of re-injury when you are able to return to dance. It’s easy to get discouraged when you’re out from the sport you love, but by staying active through your healing, you’ll come back stronger and better prepared to work towards your goals.
Need some tips for starting your no-impact strength training? Check out the Strength Training with a Foot or Ankle Injury video on the Target Training Online Institute for some great exercises to jump start your no-impact program, or the Foot and Ankle Series for some proprioceptive training!
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Myer, G.D., Faigenbaum, A.D., Ford, K.R., Best, T.M., Bergeron, M.F., & Hewett, T.E. (2011). When to initiate integrative neuromuscular training to reduce sports-related injuries in youth? Current Sports Medicine Report, 10(3), 155-166. doi: 10.1249/JSR.0b013e31821b1442.
Hupperets, M.D.W., Verhagen, E.A.L.M., van Mechelen, W. (2009). Effect of unsupervised home based proprioceptive training on recurrences of ankle sprain: randomized controlled trial. British Medical Journal, 339, doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b2684
Narvacan, N.F.L., Atienza-Bulaquifa, E., Evangelista, L.D. (2014). Effects of Visualization on Academic Performance of College Students. International Journal of Information and Education Technology, 4 (2), 156-160.