5 Ways Sports Massage Helps Ballet Dancers

Ballet is an extremely demanding activity which can have many pros, but also comes with its cons. Sports massage can help smooth out or reduce some of these issues, making ballet much more enjoyable for anyone who participates or would like to start up this form of dance.

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First of all, what is sports massage? Sports massage is used to treat musculoskeletal pain (pain affecting the muscles, tendons, bones, fascia and ligaments). It involves the manipulation of soft tissue in order to benefit people participating in regular physical activity, or to help with their general wellbeing. Soft tissue is a connective tissue that supports or surrounds other structures and organs in the body - for example hard tissues such as bones. Injuries can be very common when these tissues are put under repetitive and strenuous physical activity. Practitioners are there to help examine, assess and treat the imbalances and problems a person may have, in order to enhance performance and aid recovery. On the other hand, sports massage can help prevent injury, improve/promote flexibility, and boost the circulatory system.

Ballet is one of the few activities that uses almost every muscle in the body. Although this may seem great, it also increases the risk of injury. The main muscles used in ballet include:

Quadriceps, hamstrings, hip muscles, glutes, calves, feet, back, core, and pelvic floor muscles.

To begin with, quadriceps and hamstrings are frequently used in ballet due to the need of a straight, long and high leg line and extension, for example developpes (extension of the leg). The hamstrings are mainly contracted when doing things like plies (bend of the knees). These are used at the bar and when jumping so the dancer has a soft and safe landing. This results in very strong but also tight muscles meaning sports massage can help release them a little, leading to a lower risk of injury. Strength is obviously important but so is flexibility so massage can also help promote this. Injuries can include, patella tendonitis and hamstring strains if worse comes to the worst.

Next hips, and gluteal muscles are a key element of ballet as they provide the turnout. From a very young age, ballet dancer are taught that turnout should only come from the hip and no where else should move. external hip rotators and glutes are in charge of the outwards rotation of the leg, which has to be sustained during leg extensions, leaps, turns, etc. This becomes second nature, but can result in injuries that can prevent you from participating. An example of this is snapping hip which can become quite painful, even in every day life. Sports massage can help prevent these issues from developing.

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Calves and the muscles in the feet, also are frequently used in ballet, especially as you become higher level. As you would know, ballet dancers spend a lot of their time on a rise or with pointed feet. I am going to draw your attention to pointe work, as it is a main cause of injury in ballet. Pointe work requires a lot of strength in the calves and feet to be stable. All your weight goes through your toes and feet, so being able to balances needs a lot of experience. Before going on pointe, teachers spend a lot of time strengthening the feet and calves. If this wasn’t done, it would be very dangerous. spraining or damaging your ankle is very common and can prevent you from participating for a very long time. Also things like achilles tendonitis, and shin splints can be quite common and extremely painful. In order to speed up the healing process sports tape, ultrasound, and sports massage can help. A lot of resistance against the floor is is used as you have to work slowly through every part of the foot before fully pointing it, for example in tondu’s. This can cause eventual pain or discomfort.

Next the back and core. Holding the upper body up and making moves look effortless is really important in ballet. Constantly holding your posture can end up causing pain. However, the strong back and core provides essential stability and centre off balance needed. The upper back is what should be used in ballet but this can put strain on the lower back. This can potentially be career ending if it gets unbearable for a dancer.Constantly maintaining the welfare of your back through sports massage can help with these sorts of issues.

Finally, a muscle that isn’t as well known in ballet, is the pelvic floor muscles. Due to it being gripped when the obturator internus (external rotator) is used, pelvic floor muscles help with turnout. Strengthening and maintaining this can prevent other injuries from occurring; you won’t over use your glutes for example.

Overall, sports massage can benefit ballet dancers in a number of ways, helping them enjoy their sport without having to worry about injury.

Megan Jones

Samantha Bramley