It is common for dancers to experience some challenging physical changes during adolescence. Studies have shown that this usually occurs for girls between the ages of 11 and 14 years and 13 to 16 years for boys but this can vary. Growth spurts can cause changes in the body which can, as a result, have an effect on a persons balance and flexibility. This can have a negative effect on a dancers technique and it is normal to see a decline in technical performance during these rapid growth stages. It can be difficult for dancers to understand why their performance has suddenly declined despite more and more practice. It’s these challenges that young people face during adolescence years, that cause some dancers to quit.
Challenges which you may face include:
Balance and Co-Ordination difficulties
Bones growing faster than soft tissue – this can have an effect on your movement/flexibility
Muscle & ligament stiffness & tightness – this can restrict your movement and flexibility but can also cause inflammation and other symptoms to occur
Legs and arms growing faster than the trunk
To reduce the risk of injury, here are some actions which you can take:
Static Stretching: When performing a static stretch you should hold each stretch for up to 30 seconds. Do not over-stretch to the point of discomfort when doing this or you can cause more damage. Also, make sure you increase your body temperature by doing some light activity first. The muscles you stretch is very important, I would advise you to see a physical therapist or somebody like myself who works specifically with Irish dancers to find out what stretches are most suitable for you. Example: If you have tight hamstrings, it does not mean that stretching your hamstrings is the answer. The discomfort you feel may be coming from somewhere else causing your hamstrings to tighten.
Limit jumping movements in order to reduce the impact on the joints. Instead of dancing, during class, you can follow an effective mobility/stretching routine.
Tell somebody. A lot of dancers hide the pain, in fear that they will be told to stop dancing and as a result, they will miss out on practices coming up to competitions. Or they are afraid to tell their teachers because they don’t want to make a fuss. My advice to you is to tell your teachers straight away! They might advise you to see somebody like myself and they can help you by avoiding movements that cause pain when dancing to make sure the issue does not worsen.
Physical Therapy: Hands-on treatment will help to keep the muscles relaxed, putting less stress on the areas of attachment. The treatment will also help your movement, making it less stressful for you to perform specific movements when dancing. Maintaining the progress made during these sessions by following the correct program will also reduce the chances of injury.
If you are a young dancer, it is important to avoid injuries during growth spurts in order to be free of complications as you get older. Depending on the severity of an injury during this stage, growth plates may close prematurely which can cut of blood supply, causing the injured side to be shorter than the unaffected side. Growth plates are soft and weak during stages of rapid growth so constant pulling on the growth plates can cause muscles to tighten and can affect how bones grow. Injuries in these areas can occur through overuse or acutely.
As bad as it all sounds, try to remember that you will grow out of this stage. It may take months or even a couple of years but do not let that dishearten you. Be patient, get through it and then you will be able to enjoy your activities again and perform at the highest level! Everyone goes through this phase, some are worse than others but that is the joys of growing up!
I hope you found this helpful. If you would like me to speak about something specific, post a comment on our social media channels. I will be happy to help.
Thank you again!
Irish Dance Coach & Therapist
Author of ‘Upping Your Step’.