Athletes and the Arts: Dancer Return to Play


By Becca Rodriguez Regner, DO

One of the unique factors that makes osteopathic sports medicine physicians great, is creating safe modifications for athletes to keep active and working around an injury. The return to play (RTP) protocol is created for concussion athletes–– football, basketball, and baseball athletes. RTP for the dancer should be the same mindset.

After diagnosis, an imaging and treatment plan is given to the dancer and they look to their company physician for ways they can still move, even if it is a single limb. It is the love in their hearts and passion to create a beautiful and artistic dance that drives their spirit. Most dancers want to keep working on flexibility and continue attending class/rehearsal to learn choreography. It is important for the osteopathic sports medicine physician to inquire about the number of hours the dancer is dancing per week in class, number of hours danced in rehearsal, and number of hours or how many performances/competitions they have per month. Many studios offer many types of genres of dance or cross training classes that dancers can participate in to keep muscles moving and for continued modified training. Utilize pilates, yoga, floor barre, swim, bike, and elliptical if possible in exercise modification. If safe, incorporate abdominal workouts, seated upper body weights or resistance training, and use of resistance band work where appropriate. Formal physical therapy is also important to add to the treatment plan to help improve range of motion, strength, and lower extremity proprioception. 

When the dancer is relieved of pain, inflammation and swelling, improvement in range of motion and strength, then functional training, can begin. The dancer will be anxious to get back into class and start marking choreography. A 25% intensity or percentage rule of NL schedule can be used to return a dancer to the stage. It is important with the dancer, like with any other athlete, to build back gradually into sport. The 25% rule allows the physician to direct care and give the dancer an outline plan every two weeks to increase intensity of work load by 25%, as tolerated. This allows for an eight-week gradual return to play into 100% full out performance. Of course, this 25% rule can be altered according to athlete healing and severity of injury. Lastly, it is vital for the osteopathic sports medicine physician to ask about any competitions or shows in the near future. Dancers, parents and company directors are appreciative when company physicians can help create goals for the dancer in returning to performance.

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