Making the Comeback After a Setback

My Injury Part 11

As a follow up to my post ‘Sticks & Stones May Break My Bones but Dancing Does Too’, where I wrote about how my stress fracture came about and dealing with returning to work, I wanted to share my ongoing experience with the physical side of the recovery to help anyone else who is struggling coming back from an injury.

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My routine of exercises to strengthen my foot

I have to say it has not been easy, as I am sure no injuries are, and it took much longer than I first expected for me feel like I am dancing as I did before the injury last May. Originally I came back feeling good, thinking I had done everything needed to have a fully healed foot but since then numerous problems and pains have bothered me, with days where my foot still doesn’t feel ‘right’, even after a year.

For my recovery I took all the vitamins advised, had Magnetic and Electrotherapy treatment, and even slept with my foot wrapped in a poultice of Comfrey; a natural herb said to heal broken bones amongst other things. I kept moving during my time off with swimming, Yoga, Pilates and Gyrotonics to ensure I came back fit and healthy. But I think my biggest mistake, (and this being my first serious injury I was bound to get a few things wrong) and the reason why it has taken so long was not strengthening my foot enough in the beginning.

As told by the doctor I took the correct amount of rest for my bone but the loss of muscle and a strengthening program was never discussed. Of course, being an athlete and knowing I would be weak I did exercises but now I see it was not enough for the amount of work I wanted from my foot. More time should have been taken strengthening me foot before fully returning to work.

Due to this mistake, pain slowly came back when my workload increased, not only where the bone broke but due to weakness and compensation pain developed in other areas of my foot too. I admit it did feel weak but I thought it just needed time and dancing would strengthen it. I had moments where simple things like having the weight on the ball of my foot was too painful and yet I had to push through for performances,

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Over the period of our ‘La Sylphide’ premiere I had to work through a lot of pain due to my foot not being strong enough (Photo: Pablo Octavio)

needing a few days to recover afterwards. Not ideal when dancing principal roles and a few days off is not really an option nor something I wanted. I would look at the calendar planning when I would have a chance to rest a little and how long I had till the next hurdle. Very frustrating and disappointing. I needed a solution to fix it as I was slowly loosing hope.

It was only in physio one day when they noticed how little my muscles worked compared to my other foot. He gave me a simple exercise, one that all dancers do for foot strength, but suggested I focused on using different muscles while doing it. The exercise is so simple I could do it all day every day and within three days I already felt a difference. The pain on the outside of my foot improved enormously suggesting the extra work could be the answer to help the rest of my foot.

I developed a programme using a BOSU balance trainer, a Theraband and machines (at the gym) for my ankles and feet. In our midseason holiday, I had the time to strengthen the weaknesses without the extra strain of dancing. Miraculously, once returned to work I started feeling pretty good. Dancing with no pain and feeling so much stronger, not just my foot but my whole body. Finally.

This injury took so much energy and unfortunately became my focal point of dance, holding me back from improving in any way. I am so relieved to have found the solution and love being back in the real world of dance.

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Giselle rehearsal with Flavio Salamanka

This whole process has been so difficult and if I could go back I would do it differently but only because I now know better. I guess I had to go through it to learn how to treat an injury by strengthening the weakness 100% before returning and how useful other forms of exercise can be to improve as a dancer. Working the muscles in a different way and even strengthening ones we don’t use in ballet is only a bonus for the body, the dancer and the art.

Onwards and upwards.

With love,

Harriet

2 thoughts on “Making the Comeback After a Setback

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