how to prevent/relieve back pain for dancers

Back pain is an extremely common issue for dancers, and one of the scariest. You never realize how important your back is until one day you are knocked to the floor of your apartment by a stabbing pain in your low back, unable to move. This terrifying event happened to me when I was living in Utah, dancing on the UVU Ballroom Company. The hours were pretty grueling.  I arrived at school by 6 a.m for team practice, and sometimes my days lasted until midnight. Dance classes lasted all day and then I worked in the evenings. Needless to say I spent  A LOT of time on my feet and using my body. My days are not as strenuous now, but I do encounter long days of practices, working, and fitness that can leave my body with some serious damage if I don’t take care of it properly.

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As dancers, or any type of athlete, sometimes it is hard to take the time to rest or care for our bodies. We constantly want to be improving, working, and striving towards our goals. What has been the hardest thing for me to grasp is that if I don’t take the time to deal with an injury in the early stages, it WILL get worse and could end my career abruptly.

When I first started experiencing trouble with my back, I would ignore the pain and continue to push through with my workouts and daily activities. This would work for a while but then I would be down with it completely, unable to even get out of bed. Dancers cannot dance without their bodies, so I knew that I had to try everything possible to improve this condition, even if it meant taking some time off to figure out what that consisted of.

My Mom has dealt with serious back trouble her entire life, so she has done everything in her power to help me avoid her current situation. Like I said, problems like back pain are easier to stop in their early days than years later. Her knowledge combined with some research and personal experience have helped me come up with these 4 tips/tricks that have helped me improve my low back pain TREMENDOUSLY over the last few months. I have very little trouble at all, and when I do, the pain can usually be eased quickly and efficiently.

  1. Yoga–  What did I do before a consistent yoga practice?? I have no idea. Yoga has really been the most important part of healing my back and relieving pain. Prior to a few months ago, I was only doing yoga periodically, maybe a few times a month at most. Then I started the 3 Week Yoga Retreat (email me for details) which is part of the BeachBody on Demand training. I decided to do this program for the 3 weeks consecutively and I have been doing yoga almost every day, 10-15 minutes, since. I have had rare accounts of back pain, and nothing even close to the pain I was experiencing before. When we are constantly working our muscles (like in dance) and don’t stretch those muscles out properly after use, they will constrict and cause pain or injury. One thing that I notice is when my legs and hips are REALLY tight, I tend to have more low back pain. yoga for low back painThis is because those muscles are connected to the back, and everything works together in order to keep us mobile and doing the things that we do on a daily basis.The great thing about yoga is that it not only stretches the muscles, but it really lengthens them. Sometimes just stretching doesn’t have the same effect, and can sometimes cause us even more injury because we want to go “further” or reach a new level of flexibility. There are some fantastic lower back pain release exercises on YouTube but my favorite one is from BeachBody on Demand. It’s only 10 minutes long and really focuses on those problem areas with gentle stretches. Remember, yoga poses should NEVER be forced. Only go until it is comfortable for you, and always come out of a pose if it is causing pain. Yoga is a great method of prevention or relief from back pain.
  2. Squat NOT Bend– This concept is SUPER simple but you would be surprised how many times I would catch myself doing this, and the irritation that it caused. Whenever we drop something or need to pick something up from the floor, it’s normal to just bend at the waist and pick it up. For some reason it’s just easier or we have grown accustomed to the “bend-and-snap” method from Legally Blond haha. On a serious note though, this will really irritate your back if it is already in pain, and can make your situation MUCH worse. And if your back isn’t in pain but you want to avoid it, this will help you as well. Adapting the habit of squatting instead of bending will take great relief away from our low backs and hips. Sure, we may look a little silly…I always feel like one of those cute little pregnant ladies when I do it…but it will be so beneficial to the strength of your back in the long run.

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    DO NOT “Bend and Snap” 🙂
  3. Avoid Sitting on Soft Surfaces– This is probably the thing that is the most frustrating when my back is irritated. Darn those soft, plushy couches and movie theater seats. It never fails that when my back is irritated even just a little and then I sit on a soft couch/seat, I will be in 10X more pain. I have figure this out the hard way, so take my advice. When our low back is irritated or in spasm, sitting on a soft surface pulls those muscles downward which creates more tension, causing more pain and damage. So this tip is pretty simple. If your back is already in pain, try to find a hard surface like stool or bench to sit on, and if you have plans to go the movies that night….reschedule lol. Movie theater seats are the WORST. 

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    Looks can be deceitful….
  4. Cupping– Okay so I am SOOOO excited to tell you about this relief technique. I’m sure many of you have heard about cupping in the media with famous athletes like Michael Phelps using it to their advantage in order to relieve stiffness and pain. This technique is incredible you guys. Cupping works to release the Fascia unlike massage or chiropractic work does. Why is Myofascial Release so important?  Fascia is the tissue that wraps around almost every part of our body. When the Fascia becomes restricted around our muscles, that is when we become prone to injury. But did you see the ugly bruises that the cupping left on him and so many other famous celebrities? Not a pretty site. Not only that, but it’s really hard to target all areas with single cups that have to suction on one spot for a prolonged period of time. That is why the Cup and Release that my Mom’s friend introduced us to is pure GENIUS. This little tool suctions to the skin like cupping does, however you can actually SLIDE it across the skin to reach all areas. AND it doesn’t leave bruises! The release that it gives is absolutely incredible and has done wonderful things for my back as well as my Mom’s. About 10 minutes is all it takes to experience release in your muscles. Just rub some lotion on your skin and have someone do the cupping technique on whatever areas you need it. I will like the demo video here. 

I hoped these tips and techniques will help fellow dancers find some relief in their back pain, or avoid it all together! We have to have our bodies in tip-top shape for what we do (and LOVE) so let’s take care of them shall we? If you have any questions feel free to comment below or shoot me an email; I’m always more than happy to help! Also check out my video at the top of the page (if you haven’t already) that goes along with this post. If this post and/or video was helpful to you, don’t forget to subscribe to my email list as well as my YouTube channel! 

I’ve got your back,

Ashlyn Tori <3

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