I’m working with a dancer this summer who reminds me a lot of me. When we first started to work together she didn’t know what pain was. Silly, right?

This lovely young lady is dealing with some pretty chronic hip, knee, shoulder and neck pain upon many passive and active movements. How has she been dancing? How does one successfully perform the infinite ranges of motion and challenges of stability that dancing requires when it hurts to do a basic, passive movement?

A lot of things are possible when you ignore pain. But for how long can you maintain that?

A huge part of what I do with some clients is pain education, something many dancers won’t ever get.

No dance teacher ever taught me how to listen to my pain, but told me to push through it. We’re told that pain is an inherent part of our existence. But I’m telling you it doesn’t have to be.

I don’t care how annoying it gets, I will ask you how you feel after every exercise.

If I know you have knee pain, I will always ask you how your knees feel, because as lovely and sweet and awesome as my aforementioned client is, she never mentions pain until I ask her. And then it finally comes out after some probing. “That hurt my knee”. WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME DURING THE EXERCISE WHEN YOU FIRST NOTICED IT???

Dancers…

The presence of pain changes motor control and facilitates the development of compensation. That’s why you don’t ever want to repeatedly perform movements that hurt.

Yes, to dance you will have to do some things with your body that feel uncomfortable, but that isn’t the same as pain. Do you know the difference between pain and discomfort?

I have never had a formal education in the science of pain, just like I never received a formal education in anatomy, biomechanics, neurophysiology, or many other things that I would have liked that relate to my interests in the field of training and rehabilitation. Fortunately (or unfortunately), I learned straight from the source.

While my dance teachers may never have warned me that “if X joint starts to hurt upon Y movement, go seek help because that’s bad”, I learned eventually, anyway. Was it worth it? I often wonder…

So in case a dance teacher fails to deliver this important message (that might save your dance career, by the way):

If your arm goes numb when you put it over your head, go see someone about it.

If it hurts your neck when you turn your head to one side, go see someone about it.

If your knee sometimes gives out painfully while you’re walking down the street, go see someone about it.

If any part of your body is experiencing pain at any time while you dance or otherwise, take a freaking break and go see someone about it!

It doesn’t make you weak to acknowledge pain, and taking time off from dancing when movement is painful won’t cause irreparable regression. You often need to regress to progress. That’s what pain is telling you. That’s your education from pain. Let it teach you it’s lesson, and move on to better things.

Pain is your body’s way of telling you something isn’t right. Will you listen? It’s an opportunity to make huge improvements. Will you take it?