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Ballerinas & Back Pain

Through Anti-Bunhead Fitness, I come across lots of dancers who suffer from low back pain. Now, there can be many different conditions that cause back pain, running the gamut from movement patterns to actual physical bone structure. But, the majority of the time, the underlying culprit is weakness - not only in the low back muscles themselves but also in the more general core/abdominal area.

It’s obvious that movements that directly involve the lower back like arabesque and attitude would trigger this back pain, especially if you are trying to force a position that is outside the healthy range of your body (such as scorpion and needle stretches that could compress and grind your vertebrae). But, if your back and core muscles are disproportionately weak and unable to support your skeleton, even seemingly unrelated movements like jumping are going to cause back pain as those muscles won’t be strong enough to absorb the shock of your body hitting the floor. This poses a major problem for dancers when common things like petit and grand allegro become risk factors for injury and pain.

I'm working with one gorgeous dancer right now who was suffering from such bad back pain during Nutcracker season that she had trouble lifting her leg in arabesque past 45 degrees. She knew her pain was due to weak core muscles, but all the traditional abdominal exercises she did just made her back pain worse. And so, she was stuck in the awful place of knowing what the cure was...but not knowing how to go about taking the medicine.

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When she came to see me, we started her on a regimen of building core strength with exercises that wouldn't compromise her back. We also targeted her low back muscles with a specialty machine (pictured above) found at the Bulletproof Ballerina home base that safely isolates the movement of the lumbar spine to increase strength and mobility. Sometimes, back pain comes from these little muscles going into spasms due to overcompensation for other muscles not getting the job done. So, a machine like this has a dual purpose:

  1. It makes the muscles of the lower back region stronger and more resilient to the load they are under.
  2. By mobilizing the lumbar region, it increases the blood flow to the area which can help tight muscles relax and relinquish their spasms (a.k.a. pain RELIEF!).  

Thankfully, after a few weeks of training with this routine, she's noticing her arabesque height increasing again. And, she’s not plagued by the constant back pain either! We still have some work to do to build her confidence and resilience in this area, but she is off to a good start!

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This situation serves as such a great example that there are ways to push yourself to the next level without destroying your body in the process. You just need to figure out a different way of training sometimes. As dancers, we are so used to enduring pain and abusing our bodies that we tend to just take it without even considering that there may be a better way - a way that doesn’t involve sacrificing the health and longevity of our bodies for the sake of our art. The next time you find yourself pushing through pain in your usual fashion, remember that there may be another way to get results.

Train differently - #BadGirlBallerina style;)

Do you experience back pain? Perhaps you feel the need to force your extensions, and it’s causing your joints to hurt? Maybe you feel a jarring sensation when you jump? Do you wake up with pain that just doesn’t seem to go away? Whether you have sharp pain or dull achiness in your low back, it may do you good to adjust your current program. Your entire core might need some revamped strength and attention.

Photo Credit (top title block): Steve Vaccariello

(bottom black and white): Estilo Atunes