The Problem With Physiotherapy

The Problem With Physiotherapy

I’ve gone to physio many, many times. Throw some chiropractic adjustments and acupuncture into the mix too. I just had an impromptu ART session yesterday! One of the perks of working at a gym with multi-disciplined trainers.

I’ve had a lot of dance-related (and non dance-related) injuries. Too many. I don’t even want to talk about it.

Actually, yes I do. But more for your sake than for mine. As much as I love talking about myself. Just kidding… I’m actually pretty boring in real life.

When I was 14 (or 15?) I first went to physio for low back pain. Like many dancers,  this is age when the aches and pains begin, and most often it’s the lower back that is the first to go.

At that age, my back pain didn’t really worry me too much, and I didn’t let it slow me down.  I also remember at the age of 15 (while studying at the Banff Center’s summer program), that I couldn’t walk without significant pain in my right hip unless I turned my right foot out to about 45 degrees. And that was ok with me.

I even remember my parents saying something like, “Oh that’s not good, Monika, we should really take you to get that looked at.” To which I replied, “No it’s fine as long as I walk like this!”.  Zombie stylez.


This is the mindset of too many dancers. Pain is the expectation. Especially the young dancers who don’t necessarily understand what’s happening inside their bodies. At that age there are too many other things to worry about, like, OMG did you know that Gretta wears a thong?? I totally saw it the other day. I know, right!!?!!? What a sl^#*… I mean…

But in all seriousness, when I was 14, I could have cared less about the impending doom stemming from my unchecked injuries. Many people don’t even know how to differentiate between “good pain”, and “bad pain” until it’s too late.

Anyhoo, so when I was 14 I went to physio for my back, and was given a few exercises and stretches that I’m sure would have helped me a lot. If I actually did them

Which leads me to problemo numero uno with the whole physiotherapy thing:

1) No body likes doing physio exercises. This isn’t necessarily a problem with the physiotherapist in question, or saying that physio is a BAD idea, but more an issue with own laziness, lack of self-efficacy, and not being educated on the importance of rehabilitation. I know the damn exercises take forever to get through, like Ben Hur, but just do them! I don’t think I did the exercises once. And my back got worse. Go figure.

2) It’s too late, you’ve already hurt yourself. Wouldn’t it be better to NOT get hurt in the first place? The fact that you’re in the physio office is proof of your ineptitude to take care of your body’s needs- Namely, understanding how it functions, and then doing the things that hurt it.

3) Some physiotherapists won’t even give you exercises. I had a physiotherapist once, whom I explicitly asked to give me stretches and exercises (for my hamstring), and he said, “Well, you don’t really need to do any right now, just keep coming for treatments.” It isn’t until now that I really understood where his priorities lay, aka, my wallet. I trusted him to help me recover in the speediest way possible, but he was only interested in booking me for soft tissue therapy. You need to be careful that you’re going to someone reputable, and especially someone who knows dancers. I happen to know a miracle worker. Email me if you want her deets.

4) Some physiotherapists don’t continue their education after becoming licensed. They don’t make an effort to keep up with the latest findings, and latest techniques and research.  They are set in their ways and don’t want to change. You probably know people like that.

So we’ve established that going to physio is undesirable. What’s the solution? Well, hind-sight is 20/20. Knowing what I know now, I would have told 13 year old Monika to start strengthening my body while I was young and relatively uninjured.

I encourage young dancers to learn how their bodies work as early as possible. Make your body resistant to injuries by doing some sensible core training, especially if you’re prone to lower back pain. It’s way more fun to strength train before you’re hurt, than it is to do physio exercises or lie in the traction machine. I promise.

And do your research! Ask your physiotherapist questions before deciding to trust them with your body. Better yet, just start strength training NOW so that you can limit your future exposure to the physio.

I was talking with my mother the other day about how young is too young for someone to begin strength training. “You’re not talking about using WEIGHTS, are you??” she said. To which I replied, yes, of course! How do you think you get stronger? Is there some unwritten rule that children (I’m talking 10 years and up) shouldn’t be strong? That they shouldn’t be body-aware? Should they save these skills for later in life? I don’t think so…

In reality, strength training is probably much healthier for the body than dancing (especially ballet). The dominating thought is that dancers should start doing pointe as soon as they are strong enough (and many start doing it when they’re not yet strong enough). Between 11 and 13 is when girls generally are deemed worthy. And yet, somehow, it’s NOT ok for them to develop full body strength (strength train with weights). Strength that would make doing pointe much safer at a young age, and prevent the myriad of injuries associated with it.

It’s enough to make me want to cut off all my hair. Which I really want to do anyway. Long hair is SO hard to maintain. The number of times per day it gets stuck in zippers… Don’t get me started.

Yes, I think dancers should start strength training young. Yes, I think strength training will probably make so that you won’ thave to go to physio as often later on. At some point, most people are going to have to go see a physiotherapist for something. There’s no way you can prevent every injury. I’m just saying, it’s better to integrate your body structurally as early as possible, and I think we can all agree that saving money on physio fees is a sweet, sweet thing. Just something to think about.

Strength training and learning cool new things about your body is also way more fun than phsyio. If it isn’t, I want to meet your physiotherapist, cause he sounds awesome!



Do Dancers Need Upper Body Strength?

Ok. First watch this:

Count the number of times you think the dancers (of the Australian Dance Theatre)  needed to use their arms or upper bodies in some way, whether for a lift, for support, or to catch a landing on the floor. Ok got a number?

I counted 31 times. But I was also counting moments when a lot of scapular stability was required, because  I think this classifies as upper body strength too. 31 feats requiring arm strength in 2 minutes…. Now tell me, do you think it’s important for dancers to have upper body strength? Do you??? Tell me!

PS- When you have time, check out more of ADT’s choreography by Gary Stewart. He’s notorious for getting his dancers to do some pretty ridiculous stuff. One of my favorites, for sure.

I was working with one of my winter program dancers (we’ll call her Svetlana) a few days ago, and we had an interesting conversation after having her perform a set of push-ups. Conversation went something like this:

SVETLANA: OMG push-ups are so hard!

ME: I know, right*! They freakin’ suck! But you have to do them.


ME: So Svettie, do you think it’s important for dancers to be able to do push-ups?

SVETLANA: Umm YES! Totally.

ME: Why?

SVETLANA: Just…. Because…. ??

ME: Good answer! *high five*

* For the record, I make it a point to try never to say “I know, right?”.  And “bro”.

Sometimes, you don’t really need a more profound reason than “because”. Especially if you’re right.  And yes. I. Hate. Push-ups. So. Much. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I don’t enjoy my face coming right at the floor, and gravity really sucks.

But anyway, is upper body strength (not JUST push-ups) important for dancers to have? The short answer: Yes. Yes, it is. Do dancers of different styles need varying degrees of arm strength? For sure.

In ballet for example, the women don’t do a whole lot of lifting, nor do they put their hands down on the floor very often. On purpose that is… Sometimes penches go horribly wrong

 HOWEVER, these days ballet companies, such as the National Ballet here in Toronto, often commission independent contemporary choreographers to create pieces that aren’t necessarily “balletic”. The classically trained dancers are expected to be able to pull off some technically challenging feats that they might not be physically prepared for, no matter how perfectly they can perform Swan Lake.

Speaking of Svetlana…

It’s also very rare to make a killing in the industry with only one dance style under your belt. Mind you, “making a killing” is a subjective figure in the dance biz. Sure you’ll always be better at one style than others, and that’s fine. But if, for example, you are a ballerina with the American Dance Theatre, it definitely pays to  have the crazy strength to perform Gary Stewart’s choreography, should he ever happen to stop by to choreograph something. He’ll probably ask you to throw your body at the floor. And then get up, and do it again. And then stand on your head. Seriously. Gary loves the headstands.

In my opinion, (and in the opinion of my good friend “science”) there are a few major reasons why it pays to have strong arms, and a solid upper back as a dancer, regardless of your style:

1. For  lifting. For men, this is pretty obvious, but for women this is becoming more and more important.

2. For performing challenging choreographic feats. If you have ever had to hold yourself in a plank, do an arm balance, propel yourself with your arms, or do anything that required an ounce of arm strength, then you nomesayin’. (There are a couple f-bombs in the video clip, so if you’re sensitive mind your ears, if you know what I am saying).

3. Scapular stability and proper shoulder mechanics. Dancers are prone to shoulder issues due to the fact that a) we have our arms above our heads all day, which causes a lot of tension in pec minor, and makes us prone to thoracic outlet syndrome, winging scapulae, and a myriad of other unpleasant shoulder issues.  b) we’re just like regular people who slouch and sit at the computer too much and have bad posture sometimes too. And you can never have enough scapular stability.

4. Dancing is easier when you have a strong upper back. Lines look better. Holding the arms in the proper position is way easier. Your arms don’t get as tired as quickly. You can feel what it’s like to dance with you back rather than just with your arms. It’s just plain great.

5. Injury prevention. Things like rotator cuff strains, thoracic outlet syndrom, shoulder impingement, bursitis, and other common upper body ailments are, for the most part, totally preventable, if you have adequate strength and stability. Want to lift someone above your head without busting up your infraspinatus? Go do some rows (an over-simplification… But still).

Will your arms get big and manly if you try to make your upper body stronger? No. Not unless you try really, really hard. I promise.

To check out how to incorporate upper-body strengthening exercises into your life (and into your dance training) check out my free program, Dance Stronger. It is still in it’s beta phase, but won’t be free for long, so get in on it while you still can!

Anyway, that’s all for today. I only got 2 hours of sleep last night (ahhrhghghghh) and I am le tired. I’m coming off of a month-long melatonin binge. It was the best month of sleep I’ve ever had in my life, but now my body can’t get my REMs on without that sweet, sweet melatonin. Until it learns to produce it’s own again. Which I’m hoping will happen any day now… Damn hormones.

And on that note, I’m off to catch the bus to London to visit my familly for the holidays. Christmas Eve Smӧrgasbord, and multiple sugar comas on Xcessmas day await.