Today’s blog post is going to run through a couple of things I have picked up on how to cope with an ongoing injury. As pole dancers we are susceptible to shoulder injuries in particular, and often these can end up haunting us for months, even years. I must note I am not a medical professional, so these are simple lessons I have learned based from my own experience, and hopefully you can learn from some of the mistakes I’ve made. Furthermore, I will only be talking about long term care for an injury, and not initial care immediately following an injury, for which you should see a doctor.
Back in November 2015 I was practicing a Half Ballerina move on spin pole when my shoulder made a distinctive crunching noise and I lost a good amount of my forward Range Of Motion. Now, I had aching in my shoulder 2 weeks prior to this which I had ignored and continued to train with, and the injury itself occurred when I decided to try the move ‘one last time’ before the end of class. In this lies a couple of lessons; listen to your body and don’t continue training with pain that is not your usual ‘muscle fatigue’ (although this lesson is not actually the purpose of this post, it is so important to state anyway).
Despite over 6 months passing since this injury occurred, and even with the usual R.I.C.E methods and time off pole, I still experience discomfort in that shoulder, and a lot of noise and crunching, especially when I have been training a lot. As I injured my dominant shoulder this is of course frustrating, and it can end up feeling as though I will never see the end of this injury and its side-affects. But, there are techniques you can utilise in your recovery, so here is some I have found useful…
Tip 1: Seek Out Expert Advice – And From Various Sources!
When I injured my shoulder I saw my local GP and a NHS affiliated physiotherapist, and 3 months later I saw a second NHS physiotherapist and a sports masseuse. Honestly, none of the initial people I saw had the slightest clue what was wrong with my shoulder, the first physio simply told me to rest for 3-4 weeks, and the second told me to ‘just do lots of press ups’. It was not until I saw a private sports physio a month ago that I was given a program to target the slight hyper-mobility in my shoulder, showing me exercises to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles and minimise the amount of ‘movement’ in the joint.
This experience has shown me just how important it is to seek out the right medical professionals to give you the best possible care. If you are worried that you are not getting adequate advice do not be afraid to look elsewhere and get advice from more than 1 person. Not every medical professional has the right experience and knowledge for your particular case, so put your needs first when seeking out who you want to work with. Look for physiotherapists and medical professionals who have worked with athletes, and if you can find one who has worked with pole dancers / aerialists, even better.
If I had seen the right people to begin with perhaps I would have fully recovered by now. If you have an ongoing injury, do not just ignore it, it is never too late to find the right person to help your rehab.
Tip 2: Nutrition! Nutrition! Nutrition!
If you are injured it is more important than ever to keep an eye on your nutrition. I find when I am not eating as well as I should be, especially if my protein intake dips, the pain in my shoulder, and muscle recovery, seems to deteriorate.
The right macro-nutrients (fat, carbohydrates and protein) are all essential in the running of your body to its best capacity. To heal and function you need the correct fuel.
Tip 3: Train Smart, Not Hard
Before I injured my shoulder I didn’t put much thought into how I paced my training, increasing my sessions from 2 times per week to 4-5 times per week without a second thought and without much change in my approach to the intensity or contents of my sessions.
It is easy to think that ‘training hard’ is all you need to do to reach your goals. If you just keep ‘training hard’ you think you will be stronger, more flexible, and pick up those moves faster – I mean all those pole dancers I love must train SO HARD, right? Wrong. They train SMART. They more than likely have built up the intensity of their training over the years, and have paced themselves. That or they are naturally gifted enough that they don’t have the kinds of muscle imbalances and mechanical dysfunctions of the body that can lead to injury – but most humans do not have that gift. You may have hyper-mobile joints, or skeletal / muscular variations that put you at risk of certain types of injuries and issues.
If you have already injured yourself you have learned this lesson the hard way. It is now when you need to really begin to ‘train smart’. It is important to pace yourself, so you must vary the intensity of your workouts. If you are training 1 hour of intense tricks one day, you can balance this out with an hour of choreography or basic spins the next. Balance an intense stretching session with a day of light yoga. Give yourself breaks, remain balanced, and if your injury begins to ache or resurface, examine what kind of training you have been doing, and change up your routine by easing off the sessions that aggravate it.
You will make more progress training smart than you ever will from training hard. Training hard may give you initial gains much faster, but injuring yourself or burning out means taking longer breaks that slow down your progress.
Tip 4: Understand Your Body’s Changes
After an injury your body reacts in several ways.
If you continue training, other muscles often step in to ‘pick up the slack’ meaning that a shoulder injury can lead to neck or back pain, or hip problems can present with lower back pain. It is important to stay aware of these imbalances, and once again, seek out the advice of a medical professional such as a physiotherapist who can address the issues to prevent any other problems beyond the initial injury from developing. Furthermore, regular massages can help to relieve tension that can build up when the mechanisms around the injured area work extra hard to protect the weakened or damaged muscle, ligaments / tendons or joints.
Once an injury has been sustained your mind will develop a more elevated awareness and sensitivity to pain in the area. When injured the pain receptors in that area become extra sensitive as a means of protecting you from any further damage. Basically, your brain is seeing you using the injured body part and going ‘Oh No! That’s dangerous!’. Sometimes this sensitivity hangs around, especially if you do not receive the proper care and continue to aggravate and inflame the area with improper technique and training, just further reinforcing the negative associations between your body and mind.
Here is a great video you can watch on the issue of pain sensitivity:
This is not to say to ignore any pain that might occur, because it is an important biological response to let you know when something is ‘wrong’. However, you need to recognise that retraining your pain receptors in that area is a process that must be completed after an injury. The sensitivity to pain can cause you to tense up, and avoid correctly working the area, which can prolong rehabilitation.
Although it can seem impossible to retrain your mind to be less sensitive to pain, you have actually already gone through this process once before. When you learned how to do pole sits and they burned your thighs, or the pain from your first knee hangs, they seem so far in the past now because you have retrained your nervous system and pain receptors to understand that these activities are not dangerous, therefore preventing them from sending ‘Danger!’ pain signals to the brain.
A few techniques that I have read about talk about ‘counter-stimulation’ and visualisation, which you can use to retrain your mind to lessen the sensitivity to pain in the injured area. Just as I stated in my recent article on visualisation HERE, the mind is a powerful tool that can be used to improve the effectiveness of your training and the rate of your pole progress. It is for the same reasons we are able to use similar techniques for pain re-training.
Here are a couple of techniques I have read about:
- Refocusing – When pain appears, you refocus your attention to an area of the body that is not in pain, and imagine that part of the body with an altered sensation. For example, if your shoulder in hurting, focus on your foot and imagine it tingling or warming up. Alternatively you can refocus with actual physical sensations, such as holding something vibrating in your hand and focusing on that.
- Orb Of Pain – Imagine the source of pain as a small orb held in your hand. With each inhale and exhale you imagine the orb is reducing in size. To further emphasize this change the orb can start a ‘painful’ red colour, slowly turning into a calm blue as the ‘pain’ decreases.
- Words Are Powerful – The language you use to describe your injury and any pain you may still be experiencing can have a profound impact on how quickly your recovery passes. Using very dramatic language that exaggerates just how awful the pain is gets immediately reabsorbed into your subconscious mind and informs how you experience the pain. If you continuously assert the pain is an 8/10, you will consistently experience it as an 8/10 as you have trained your subconscious mind to perceive it as such. And that leads to the next point…
- Stay Positive – It’s time to take ownership of any pain caused by your ongoing injury. If you believe ongoing discomfort as something that is simply done ‘TO’ you, you will continue to fight against it, getting tenser and only strengthening the pain response in your mind. Keeping a positive attitude to recovering from your pain, and understanding that it is something that is within your power to manage, can go to great lengths in helping you to deal with it. Use positive language and affirmations, and understand that you will recover.
- Be Kind To Yourself – You have to create a comfortable sensory environment for the injured area to give your nervous system a little T.L.C. So soak the injured area in a warm bath, or soothe it with a hot water bottle (though ensure you do not have any lingering inflammation as heat can exasperate it from what I have heard). Indulge it with gentle massage, rest it when you can, and treat yourself to treatments and activities that make you feel good and relaxed. Take classes such as yoga that may activate the injured area without stressing it, letting your body know that it is OK for your shoulder / hip / back to take weight, lift you, support you and so on. Of course, ensure your primary health care provider says you are good to go for such activities first.
This post ended up a little longer than I anticipated, so all I will say to conclude is I hope this has helped you. If you have any advice you have found useful whilst recovering from an injury please let me know in the comments, I would love to hear them!