Coping with injuries
How to deal with injury: A dancer's guide
Injuries are something that happen to all of us at some point or other (whether they are minor or severe), and something that’s rarely addressed is the effect that an injury can have on a person’s psychological well-being, which can often be more taxing than the physical side effects themselves.
I’ve had my fare share of injuries since starting dance, from shin splints, strains and bursitis, to the more serious injuries - you know it's getting serious when the technical name for your injury is longer than most allegro combinations! - so I know from experience, that whilst the injury itself is usually quite upsetting, often the worst part of being injured (particularly for someone whose life is built around an athletic pursuit) is the feelings of depression, anxiety and guilt that can sometimes be triggered.
Often when we’re injured, we become less like ourselves; less positive, less motivated, less passionate. We question our own abilities more and, whether consciously or not, become withdrawn, more negative oriented and lose our confidence. Worst of all, that whilst this state of mind is caused by being injured, the effect is that this mindset makes it much harder to recover, and so it’s a never ending circle – we feel depressed because we’re injured, we stay injured because we’re depressed and lack the motivational will to recover.
So what can you do to prevent yourself from falling into this trap, and what will help you get out of it? Here’s some tips to keep you on the right path:
1: Don’t compare.
As much as it’s tempting to compare our own injury recovery to others, or even ourselves with previous injuries, it’s never a good idea. Say for instance you sprain your ankle, and you remember a friend who had sprained their ankle and was back to normal in a week. This comparison can give you unrealistic expectations about your own recovery, because everyone’s bodies are different, every injury is different, and all kinds of varying factors are involved in the healing process. So if two weeks later your ankle is still sore and swollen and you’ve told yourself ‘I’ll be all better in one week’, you’re going to feel unnecessarily frustrated and upset. It’s annoying, because you’d think that setting yourself a recovery date would be keeping positive and optimistic, but no-one can speed up the healing process, so it’s best just to trust your body and know that it’s doing everything it can to get you back in tip-top shape, as soon as possible!
2: Don’t be in denial.
Once again, this is another one of those fine lines between keeping positive and going too far – lying to yourself. Often, as a coping mechanism, especially during the earlier stages of an injury, we refuse to acknowledge either that we have a problem at all, or that it is in fact serious, and instead try to continue on as if nothing is wrong. This is a really, really bad idea, because in trying to ‘not be injured’ you’re likely to make your injury much worse, and not only that but you’re increasing the amount of time that you’ll need to take off in order to get better… which is what you were trying to avoid in the first place! So just remember, an injury is there whether you acknowledge it or not, but how serious it becomes is entirely up to you and how soon you address it.
3: Don’t get paranoid! :)
Alright now I’ve definitely been through this one. When we’re injured, we become so hyper-aware of our bodies that little niggling aches or soreness’s that we wouldn’t usually pay attention to suddenly seem like the forewarning to our next big injury. And because we aren’t quite our usual active selves, and so we’re feeling unfit compared to normal, our whole body can feel like a ticking time bomb just waiting to fall to pieces. This is true for after we’ve recovered as well – we develop an irrational fear of re-injury, as unlikely as it usually is, and tend to favour the injured area and prevent ourselves from fully recovering and returning to pre-injury condition. I’m not saying ignore your body and throw yourself ‘gung-ho’ into everything… but don’t miss out on the fun because you’re worried about something that hasn’t even happened, okay?
4: Don’t isolate yourself.
Often, we blame ourselves for an injury, however irrational this may be, people in environments that place high values on physical ability and require heavy commitments to training tend to inadvertently equate injury with weakness or laziness, even when they know that has nothing to do with it. We ourselves can be our own harshest critics though, we become angry with ourselves, and we feel useless and frustrated that our body is seemingly ‘failing’ when everyone else is fine. Sometimes feelings of guilt about ‘letting the team down’ and not being good enough to be around everyone else who’s ‘putting in the work’ makes us deliberately withdraw and isolate ourselves. Don’t do this to yourself, there are still many ways you can be involved and help when you’re injured, and more importantly keeping yourself busy is the best way to not get caught up in negative thoughts. Be determined not to waste this time that you have, set a goal that you want to have achieved by the time you’ve healed; whether it’s mastering a new song on the guitar, acing your next exam, or trying something you’ve never done before, a break from the usual routine doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. And just because you’re not doing dance or sport at the moment doesn’t mean you can’t still be a valuable part of the group, help with costumes or lighting backstage if you’ve got a show on, or cheer your team-mates on and help with the gear at sporting matches and competitions, and when all you can do is sit and watch, then really watch. You can learn SO much from observing other people and what they’re doing well and what the mistakes they make are. You’ll feel a hundred times better than you would at home, sitting on the couch wondering what everyone’s up to.
5: Don’t forget, you’re a multi-talented person!
One of the worst things about injuries for athletes, or highly active people is that they often spend so much of their lives dedicated to this demanding hobby or profession, that when it’s taken away - even for a short time - they suffer a complete identity crisis. I’ve been through this, I had to ask myself ‘Who am I without dance?’ …and I didn’t have an answer. But I’ve come to realize now that it’s important to know that no matter how much you love it, no one thing can completely define who you are. Don’t think that because you’ve stopped dancing, or stopped exercising or competing, or whatever it is that you do, that you don’t have anything to offer, there are a million things that if you were given the chance to experience you would be amazing at! An injury doesn’t stop you being ‘you’, if anything it gives you an opportunity to learn a little more about yourself. Yes, it’s an unwanted break, but it doesn’t have to be un-useful.
So, look forward to recovering and getting back into things, but in the mean-time, challenge yourself, do something different, explore. I’m sure you’ll be back at it in no time… and may you never get injured again. :)
Article by Elly Ford