Where do injuries come from? Interview with Martyna Wacławik

Martyna Wacławik is a physiotherapist with 10 years of experience and a graduate of Academy of Physical Education. She is dancing since 2007 and her dance floor life began with Rock’n’Roll and acrobatics. However since she get involved with Lindy Hop this is her main style. She is a dance teacher and organizer in her hometown – Zawiercie. In Poland she is known for her aerials workshops and organized, interesting and safe classes.

Our conversation that actually happened over a year ago is divided into two parts. I believe that the knowledge Martyna shares is important for every dancer and I didn’t want to shorten it. In the first part we will focus on injuries in dance and the second part will touch on the safety in dance as well as reaching answering the question: Do we really need the warm up and stretching?

How does your education influence your dancing?

A lot. It shapes the way I dance and teach. I always focus on safety, care about the correctness of motion and try to avoid injures. I listen to my body as it has a lot to tell me. We ignore our bodies’ signals thinking that nothing bad will happen since everything worked fine until now. However our body often prompts us and ignoring it can lead to injuries.

What kind of signal can it be?

The pain doesn’t have to be disruptive, it can reappear in a certain part of the body. It can be caused by previous micro-injuries we haven’t noticed before. Those can be old, long forgotten traumas that begin to show only in certain circumstances and subside during activities. Sometimes the pain increases and when we are injured we can’t even remember how it really started. Seemingly trivial trauma from school, sports such as volleyball training sessions or other physical activities may produce symptoms when we are adults, as our regeneration capacity becomes smaller.

picture by Paweł Machelski

What to do when such pain appears?

We shouldn’t stop dancing for sure. The worst thing you can do when something starts to hurt is to quit physical activity altogether. Then subsequent injuries are even more prone to happen. Instead you should try to find the reason and search for the source of the pain. You can ask someone to help you find the moment when you strain one area of your body during daily activities. This can even be bending down in the same fashion when picking up your slippers in the morning, with straight knees and back. One particular movement repeated over time can lead to overuse or injury. A good example is my friend who had a constant shoulder ache. It impacted his dancing, each stretch produced piercing pain. We started to look for a cause. As it turned out in his job as a traveling salesman he often reaches for his briefcase with documents and laptop for the back seat in his car, twisting and straining his shoulder. Over time this led to destruction of the fibers in his deltoid muscle and progressed into trauma that can only be treated surgically. Torn muscle cannot heal on its own. Some injuries can be compensated with other muscles. For example your abdominal muscles can help to stabilize your spine. Some injuries will need however rehabilitation, surgery or orthopedic management – at least for some time.

A lot of dancers struggle with pain of ankles or knees. How does Lindy Hop influence our bodies?

Everyone is different. We have different lifestyles, sometimes different diseases. You should analyze the dancer’s movement and note when the pain occurs. It is most common during kicks, jumps and acrobatics. Healthiness of Lindy Hop depends on how often we do it and whether we do any other activities. Our body functions best when it is approached holistically. A commonly observed body position in Lindy Hop with one’s weight center shifted forward, may lead to positioning knees to the front of the feet resulting in excessive strain. Our weight center shifts forward also during walking however the position we take on during dancing may be more unnatural. If the muscles are strong our body will cope with such positions.

A sudden training may also lead to trauma. If a person who previously led serderitary lifestyle suddenly enters a world of workshops, trainings, dance classes and social all-nighters their body is challenged.

It is smart to begin slowly. Check your technique and correct your shortcomings. You should mind your footwear as you need a soft sole that will work together with your foot. Sometimes a cushioning insole may be beneficial as it will gently protect your knees and feet.

Sometimes a tendency for a particular type of injury can be seen in a group. This may be caused by the dance floor that doesn’t cushion our movements well enough.

What actions should you take when you suspect an injury?

Make an appointment with a physiotherapist or a doctor and make tests to see if your joints aren’t overstrained. For instance pain from a fractured meniscus can be overlooked since it’s not always very sharp. An x-ray or an ultrasound and in many cases MRI may be useful. An untreated overexertion can exclude you from dancing for half a year or a year. If the results do not indicate injuries, then it’s good to strengthen muscles and tendons. I recommend consulting with a physiotherapist who will compose a set of exercises that will be most suitable for you. Well selected exercises can cure a majority of overexertion, but wrong ones can worsen the condition.

picture by Łukasz Lamla

If nothing hurts how do I maintain my health? I am in a dance craze, traveling for festivals, training…

The first thing would be proper warm-up and stretching. This may help you to prevent 70% of injuries. Equally important is listening to your body and letting it rest when it is needed. If you feel that your knee doesn’t work the way it should – give it some time off. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to leave the classroom. You can sit down for a while and still learn a lot by watching the class. If it’s the third day of workshops then your symptoms may be caused by fatigue, not injury. Especially if you have been dancing for a whole week. In this case rest will be sufficient. Not every pain is a trauma, sometimes it’s just fatigue or a signal. If it appears during certain type of classes it can be a warning sign to visit a physiotherapist who will run tests. They will find out if a joint is overused and whether it can be maintained with exercises to work properly.

What does a visit to a physiotherapist look like?

The physiotherapist will take a history. You answer questions about your daily physical activity and situations in which the symptoms show. It is then possible to pick the right tests to find out what injury occurred. Sometimes additional examination is needed. Having this information the physiotherapist can prescribe exercises or treatment – it depends on physical capabilities. Some people are more aware of their bodies, follow instructions and are able to continue exercise without supervision. However if someone rapidly changes their sedentary lifestyle and begins intense dance training they may need several visits to learn a proper way of exercising.

In some cases people expect the physiotherapist to instantly heal their injuries while this is not the case. Sometimes it is possible to mobilize a certain joint. In most cases however recovery depends on the work we will do ourselves. It isn’t difficult and the movements are usually repetitive. Professional training sessions are also based on repetition that teach the body proper patterns. After some time these exercises become a habit and body starts to need it. It will rather take 2-3 months than days. On the other hand if the pain ever comes back we know what to do with it. People who already worked with a physiotherapist usually know their bodies and are often able to help themselves.

Is the problem always localized in the painful area?

Our bodies are like a domino. If some area causes discomfort it doesn’t necessarily mean that the problem lies exactly there. It is good to start with the feet as they bear the weight of the whole body. Their structure is very important. Flat feet are often overlooked, but they can cause many joint issues with our ankles, kneed, hips and the spine. In adulthood we are able to address these problems in a smaller extent as the body is already formed. It’s worth seeing how the feet, knees and hips of an elderly person who underestimated flat feet look like. It is a horrible sight and brings lots of pain in the older years.

What are the most common injuries among lindyhoppers?

Usually we suffer from ankle, knee, hip and spine injuries. Shoulders are less common and usually caused by previous issues. Knees and ankles can be overused in every aspect of swing dancing. If a dancer suffered from a knee trauma before, dancing as well as every physical activity will strain them. All exercises both for abductors and adductors are needed to stabilize them. Going to the gym twice a week and swimming with a board using your legs only will positively affect our muscles. It is also good to make sure that we use our feet correctly. A foot that is stiff, doesn’t work from heel to toe and all weight is being put on it at once is an easy way to the injury. It often happens to women who wear high heels on daily basis. Rolling feet is something that every dancer should always keep in the back of their head. Feet help to cushion our ankles, knees, hips, spine and even internal organs in case of aerials. The latter are at risk during landings with flat feet apart which is often overlooked.

It is very important for every dancer to roll their feet and amortize their steps from the very beginning. It is a little more effort and takes some time and practice to get used to, but is worth not exposing your joints and muscles to injuries.


Heading picture was taken by Anna Paterek

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