For this week’s blog post, I thought I’d share an amazing physiotherapy appointment I had a few weeks ago.
I’ve had problems with my left Achilles for years now. I’ve found a way to keep it under control to an extent; Biofreeze before class, Voltarol after, keeping legwarmers on, stretching and rolling out my calves after every class, using sports tape, wearing supportive street shoes and icing after exercise. These are all good ways of looking after such an injury, but I never really investigated why it was happening. After a recent flare-up, I got sick of it and decided to get it looked at properly and sought out a physiotherapist who specialises in ballet in London.
Now, I’ve been to a couple of different physiotherapists before, some very pricey, as well as NHS physiotherapy, but never have I seen anyone so well-equipped to deal with my problem.
Before she even looked at my ankle, she asked me to stand in first position, to demi-plie and then rise on to demi-pointe, and she asked me what my corrections are in class. So important! She had me do a variety of things, discussing and asking questions. I mentioned in passing a back injury I had about a year and a half ago now, that I deemed irrelevant, but it turned out to be totally related.
As dancers we all have unique quirks in our anatomy and technique- certain movements that are very easy or very difficult for us, niggling injuries, muscle imbalances, and we are usually much more aware of them than most people as we pay so much attention to our bodies. For me, having started ballet late and not in a serious school, I had never used my full turnout until I joined my current school, which teaches in the Russian style. I actually have a virtually flat turnout, as confirmed by the physiotherapist as she measured it, but I was always encouraged to use a modest turnout. This meant that I trained the wrong muscles and my quads became very over-developed, giving the leg a bulky look and meaning that the quads took over all movement, not allowing me to use the correct muscles. It has been a very difficult and lengthy process to correct this imbalance, but I have isolated and strengthened the correct muscles over time to the benefit of my technique. However, my quads are still over-active, and the physio saw this immediately. This is causing stiffness in my hip flexors, which is pulling on my back, causing pain and stiffness here. This is irritating the sciatic nerve, causing the pain in my ankle. This is worsened by some stiffness in the neck caused by my work in a bar, lifting trays of glasses and boxes etc. I am also not supporting my turnout from my core/ trunk, meaning the lower legs are over-working to maintain my turnout, causing stress in the calves. She said that she could loosen my back manually but she preferred to give me the tools to do it myself- she gave me exercises to strengthen my adductors, lower abs and obliques without allowing the quads to come in, and instructed me to care for my neck with heat and stretching. She picked up on the fact that I was working to fund my training and assumed I wouldn’t want to come back for multiple appointments, so gave me everything I needed in one appointment so I can go away and fix it myself. I have been following her advice and already see an improvement in my technique and I feel like everything has been put together, like the missing pieces in a puzzle. All my technical problems, my corrections in class and the little niggles and bigger injuries I’ve had in my body, which I just took as individual things, were ALL connected! I left my appointment feeling like I’d been given a key, a key to a healthier body and improved technique. The physiotherapist wasn’t trying to get more money out of me by keeping me coming back when she could have done, and she was so nice and knowledgeable and excited to figure out what was causing me the trouble.
I implore everyone, if you want to see a physiotherapist about an injury, make the extra effort to seek out a ballet specialist! Ballet has very specific demands on the body, and someone who knows their stuff will identify that so much better, and probably help you to improve technically in the process! The physiotherapist I saw was Katherine Watkins, based in Wimbledon– if you’re in London I highly recommend her, and if not there are good ballet specialists all over. She was cheaper than a lot of physiotherapists and worth every penny and more- obviously physio can still be quite an expense, but it is usually worth going private rather than using the NHS as this service is over-stretched and you will be waiting a long time for someone who won’t fully understand the demands of ballet. If you can walk fine and get on with your life normally, you will probably be unable to get a referral anyway.
Until next week,