Posted 15/04/2020 in Category 1

Osteopathy and Dance Injuries

Osteopathy and Dance Injuries

A sports osteopath can treat sports injuries by using massage therapy and physically moving or stretching muscles, soft tissues and joints in order to aid movement. This whole body approach is aimed to ensure that the entire musculoskeletal system is functioning correctly in order to support overall health and eliminate specific problems to become pain free. Sports osteopaths can help prevent injury through this manual therapy approach.

Osteopaths are in demand across a range of sports and performance environments. A recent study by MSc student Kaley Maddren, at the Unitec Institute of Technology, New Zealand explored Dancers’ Experience of Osteopathy and their Attitudes Towards Dance Injuries. Dance shares many similarities with sport, in that dance is a high pressure performance environment that requires physical and psychological dedication. While this was a small scale study it yielded some interesting data about dancers' perceptions of injury and the role osteopaths can play in this. As such it has relevance to sports osteopaths working with sports injuries.

Interviews were conducted with four female dancers aged between 20 years and 26 years from the Auckland region. All had professional experience of dance and had a background in ballet, jazz and contemporary, and one participant also had experience in musical theatre.

Data were collected during face-to-face interviews, which ranged between 35 minutes and 50 minutes in length, providing a total of approximately 165 minutes of interview time. The interviews were transcribed and analysed using thematic analysis to identify the key themes evident in the data.

Three main themes were identified in the data that related to both the dancers' perceptions of injuries and the role osteopathy can play. These are outlined below: 

Pushing Through Pain

This emerged across all the interviews. All the dancers told stories about dancing with an injury and continuing to dance irrespective of being in pain, so it is no surprise that injuries would result from overuse. This drive was proposed to result in part from the 'Dance Culture' where the norm is to push bodies to the limit and show a 'resilient' attitude, and also a fear of letting other people down. Interestingly, the final reason dancers would dance in pain was due to a preference to self-manage their injury, as opposed to seeking professional help.

Deciding If and Who

Injuries are an occupational hazard for dancers. A key factor in deciding whether they would seek help the dancers would consider whether it was a ‘Good vs Bad vs Familiar Pain’. The dancers would seek help if the pain was believed to be ‘bad’ and would try push through ‘good’ or ‘familiar’ pain. If they decided they would seek treatment, the most commonly sought therapists were osteopaths, physiotherapists and massage therapists. 

Experience of Different Treatment Modalities

All the participants had experienced a range of different treatment modalities for their dance related injuries, including osteopaths (n=4), physiotherapists (n=4), massage therapists (n=4), acupuncturists (n=3), chiropractors (n=3), contact care practitioners (n=2) and GP’s (n=1). Of the four participants who had received treatment from an osteopath three mentioned they enjoyed the holistic approach and personalised treatment. This relates to a key aspect of osteopathic treatment that also emerged from the data under this theme of  ‘treating the body as a whole’. This referred to looking at all aspects of a person, including all musculoskeletal aspects, as well as mental, behavioural and emotional aspects that may be predisposing or maintaining factors of the underlying issue. The author suggested that perhaps they liked an osteopathic approach as they likened it to principles used in dance, such as using the whole body, breath and rhythm to create movements. The participants also mentioned communication in treatment and how important is was to be feeling listened to and understood. Being informed on diagnosis and a management plan were also seen as being a positive experience of the consultation.

Overall, the dancers in the present study had a largely positive experience of osteopathic treatment for their dance-related injuries. Of course, other treatment approaches were also mentioned positively as well but the focus of the specific study was on the osteopathic approach. While the data are interesting there are some limitations to the study. It is very small scale and the main researcher was an osteopathic student so there is a possibility of some bias. Nevertheless, the study does yield some interesting data around dancers perceptions of injuries and their treatments that will draw some strong parallels with sport. 

If you are interested in using the services of a sports osteopath or sports osteopathy clinic then we have a great selection on our site. In addition to treating sports injuries our osteopaths can help help reduce the risk of injury in your sporting activity. Many also offer sports massage as well. Use our directory to find a sports osteopath or clinic near you. We also have other professionals who can help with sports injuries including sports physios, sports chiropractors, sports therapists and medics. 

If you require any help on the site then please do not hesitate to contact our friendly and knowledgeable My Sports Map team. 

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Maddren, K. (2019). Dancers’ experience of osteopathy and their attitudes towards dance injuries. (Unpublished document submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Osteopathy). Unitec Institute of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand. Retrieved from