What we can learn from dancers about bone and joint health
Bones and Joints Dancers have to look after their bones and joints as part of their job. Greg Retter, clinical director at the Royal Ballet, explains what the rest of us can learn from dancers about bone and joint health.
What do you have in common with a professional ballet dancer? Not much, you might think, but in fact even non-dancers can face problems of wear and tear in bones and joints, just as dancers do.
Greg Retter, clinical director at The Royal Ballet, who works with dancers to improve physical performance and help them rehabilitate from injury, says: "Our dancers can suffer injuries from cumulative excess load on their bones and joints, and the resulting wear and tear injuries can be much the same as those that the average person acquires over a long life, except for dancers the wear and tear is magnified and accelerated."
In the Royal Ballet's dancers, Greg sees cases of bone and joint overloading as a result of excess strain, especially in the knees, ankles and feet.
Some of the dancers, along with athletes and members of the general population, are involved in research being carried out by the musculoskeletal laboratory at Imperial College, London, into the study of healthy and diseased bone and joints, so as to help understand why and how joints wear out, and how the process can be prevented or slowed.
The research has not yet finished, but in the meantime we can all learn about how to care for our bones and joints so as to reduce wear and tear.
Retter advises: "Find an exercise you enjoy and that gives you a sense of achievement, which is a great motivator to keep you going regularly. Regular moderate exercise is far better, and safer, than a sudden bout of strenuous exercise. For instance if you play football, get some practice in regularly. If you limit it to dashing around for 90 minutes once a week it is likely to give you injuries such as sore shins."
Retter recommends adult ballet classes. "Ballet requires you to move joints through their full ranges, lubricating the joint and helping it move more easily," he says. "It's also quite slow, so you can easily maintain control of your movements, reducing the chance of accidents."
He recommends finding a class teacher who will encourage you to exercise at your individual level from the start and then to build up gradually. "Adult ballet classes are popular now because they provide task-oriented fitness. They also bring the pleasure of music, movement, camaraderie, and the ability to judge your progress in the mirror, all of which help make the exercise regime inspiring," he says.
Whatever exercise you choose, avoid damaging your bones and joints by listening to your body. "Be realistic about what you can do. You may feel 25 but if your body is 50, bear in mind that it will take more time to achieve the level of fitness you want," says Retter. "Don't go for the burn - take a graduated approach." Ask your trainer to give you some exercises to strength the bones and joints, or look them up online.
If you do end up overdoing it, don't bash on regardless. Stop exercising to give your body time to repair itself. "If the pain goes on for more than 48 hours, seek advice from a health professional," says Retter.