Updated: Aug 18, 2020
I have been a PT for just over 4 years now, and if there is one thing I have learned its that most people have no idea what a PT is or does. NO, it doesn't stand for personal trainer, it stands for physical therapist. There is nothing wrong with seeing a personal trainer, it is just simply not the same thing.
What is a Physical Therapist?
A Physical Therapist is a medical professional who diagnoses and treats musculoskeletal injuries, assists with injury prevention and general wellness. The full training takes between 6-7 years and the degree is a Doctorate in Physical Therapy, or DPT. Yes that's right folks, PT's are in fact doctors with a lot of education and training in the human body. Most commonly, people think of having PT to recover from a surgery. Certainly this is true but it only skims the surface of what a PT actually does, especially when you consider what it can help a dancer with.
Why do dancers need a PT?
Help Rehab current injuries
The demands a dancer places on their body is quite high. They are capable of doing things most people cannot even begin to imagine doing themselves. That being said, the risk of injury is also quite high. Dancers will get hurt or have pain at some point, that is just a fact. Does this injury stop them from dancing? Maybe not, but you certainly would be hard pressed to try and find a dancer who has not at some point sprained an ankle or had a muscle spasm in their back. Even with this being the case, the majority of dancers don't seek out medical help. They just assume it is part of the deal. No pain no gain. That is where PT comes in.
Help you improve your strength and technique
A physical therapist can not only treat a current injury, but they will help you to be stronger than you were pre-injury so it doesn't happen again. Things like proper stretching, strengthening, and pain management techniques are taught during sessions. It is important when choosing a PT that you find someone who is familiar with dance. They will know specifically how to use your dance training in your rehab, so that when you do start dancing again your body is capable of the technical skills required. Any PT can rehab an injury, but not all PT's can help you safely return to dance. Most PT's don't know what it means to turn out, do a develope, or more importantly what your ankle needs to be capable of to safely go on pointe again. This can create a disconnect between the exercises they give you to get better and the exercises you need to be able to dance again. So I stress to you, if you are a serious dancer, find a PT with dance knowledge.
Help reduce risk for future injuries
So we have the current injury covered, but what about the injury that hasn't happened yet? No problem. PT's play a large role in wellness and injury prevention as well. PT's are qualified to do injury screenings, develop strength and conditioning programs, and assess dance technique and movement patterns that could potentially cause future problems. Not only does this help keep injury risk low, it helps enhance performance and skill level. This could be anything from increasing turnout in your develope to leaping higher. Being informed about anatomy and movement patterns as a dancer helps empower you to make changes for the better so you can have a long and healthy dance career.
Find a PT who understands dance!
Another helpful piece and PT can bring to the table is regarding the language of dance. I recently had a great conversation with a dance teacher about the language PT's use versus the language dance teachers use. We both were in agreement that it is very different, yet similar. Typically, the feedback a dance teacher gives tends to be very visual and filled with imagery. Sayings like "imagine a ribbon is wrapping about your leg", or "pretend a drop of water is dripping down your arm" are commonplace in the dance studio. For some dancers this makes all the sense in the world, for others, it might as well me jibberish. PT's, however, tend to be more realistic with their language- Identifying which muscle to use or how to align the lower leg based on anatomy rather than imagination. The dance teacher and the PT both mean the same thing, however the way a dancer interprets it may be completely different. How well each dancer reponds to these varying degrees of feedback completely depends on their learning style. But wouldn't it be beneficial if they could hear it both ways so that it becomes that much more clear to them how to be artistic , yet body conscious? Sometimes a PT can help bridge that gap for dancers, and make the imagery line up with the science behind it. I can tell you from experience, I do this with every dancer that comes through the door and it works. It isn't to change or go against what the teacher has instructed, it is simply to enhance it.
Physical Therapy has a real place in the dance world, and gradually it is becoming more commonplace to see a PT as part of a company or studio. I encourage you to find a dance medicine specialist in your own area to have on speed dial!
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