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!