We’ve all had to deal with injury at some point in our career. Some of us are luckier than others and only deal with minor set backs like a slightly pulled muscle that takes a few days or weeks to heal. Others deal with major traumas that require surgeries and months or even years of healing time. I myself have had a range of injuries and learned a lot about the process of recovery over the years. I decided to try and put what I know about recovering from injury into words. In this series of blogs, I will be talking about the process from a professional dancer perspective, although this perspective could be applied to any kind of athletics. Part 1 will cover injury types, when to see a doctor, and types of doctors.
Injury Types & Why They Happen
There are two main types of injuries: acute and chronic. Acute injuries are injuries that happen suddenly and can require immediate medical attention. Things like a break, sprain, strain, or tendon snap fall into this category. Chronic injuries are injuries that happen slowly overtime from repeatedly performing a particular motion. Tendinitis, stress fractures, or bursitis would fall into this category.
There are many reasons injuries occur. With acute injuries, it’s usually a onetime accident. But Chronic injuries are different. With dancers, we tend to end up with chronic injuries not just from repetition, but repetition of an incorrect movement pattern. Incorrect movement patterns can develop from compensation from an acute injury that was not properly treated, wearing ill fitting dance shoes, not receiving proper technical training, or not paying proper attention to your body while dancing.
When To See a Doctor
When you suffer an initial injury the first decision you need to make is if you need to go see a doctor. The second decision is what kind of doctor do you need to see. Going to a doctor is an important first step for determining how severe an injury is and a proper course of treatment. This step is especially important for anyone who has never been injured before because it will put the injury into perspective and help set you on the right course for recovery.
In general, going to see a doctor vs. not is the better decision. For acute injuries, you should go see someone as soon as possible, especially if pain persists for more than 24-48 hours. Chronic injuries on the other hand can be a bit more difficult to gauge. With chronic injuries, when it comes to actually going to see a doctor, most of us put it off until we are either in too much pain or have been in pain for too long. This is not necessarily a bad way for determining if we need to go see a doctor, but if you are questioning whether you should or not, you probably need to. It is always better to go sooner rather than later so there is less risk of the injury becoming debilitating.
What Type Of Doctor Should You See?
When choosing what type of doctor to see it really depends on what you feel you need and what worked for you in past experiences. If this is your first time being injured then utilizing the recommendations of your teachers, coaches, or other movement professionals is a good place to start. For myself, I usually go see a chiropractor or massage therapist as my first choice because 1) I can do a lot of the PT related work myself, 2) I have a chiropractor and massage therapist I trust, and 3) most of the injuries I deal with are chronic and occurred in reaction to an old acute injury from when I was 13 years old.
As far as determining the type of doctor you need to see, there are a few options. You have general practitioners, sports medicine doctors, orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists, or chiropractors to choose from as possible options. General practitioners or family medicine doctors are the least specialized of this list but can offer guidance with basic sprains, strains, or breaks. They can also help determine if you need someone more specialized and point you in the right direction if you are unsure what specialized route to take. Sports medicine doctors specialize in sports related injuries. Orthopedic surgeons are also very specialized and usually focus on a small area of the body (foot and ankle, hip and knee, etc.). Physical therapists have you perform exercises or stretches to help improve mobility after surgery or injury. Chiropractors perform manipulations and adjustments that address skeletal and muscle alignment issues that keep the body from functioning properly.
In general, good questions to ask when deciding which doctor you should see are “has this person worked with dancers before?” and “does this person specialize in musculoskeletal body mechanics?” If a medical professional is good enough at their job, it won’t necessarily matter if they have specifically worked with dancers or not. But it does matter whether or not they are some type of movement specialist. For example, an oncologist is not going to be able to give good advice to a dancer that is suffering from back pain due to overuse. While their initial advice of rest until the pain goes away is not inaccurate, it is incomplete. A movement or musculoskeletal specialist is going to be able to provide much more complete information than someone who’s specialty is disease and illness. Once you have found a doctor you trust, you will have completed the first step on the road to recovery.
I hope this helps clear up some initial confusion when it comes to injuries and the recovery process. Stay tuned for future blogs where I will continue through the process of recovering from injury based on my own personal experience. See you soon!
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