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Student Blog: The Body and Musical Theatre: Seven Ways to Prevent Injury and Chronic Pain

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Anyone else's knees go: Snap, Crackle, and Pop?

Student Blog: The Body and Musical Theatre: Seven Ways to Prevent Injury and Chronic Pain

There is a certain level of athleticism shown in musical theatre - from dancing to simply existing onstage, you are required to be in tiptop shape, whatever that looks like for you. But what happens when you can't ascend a flight of stairs without grimacing, holding your knee, or otherwise?

I am hypermobile, and this causes me a lot of pain. You can be hypermobile without pain, absolutely! I am not one of those people. Now, there are many things we bendy people can do while in training, rehearsals, or a show run to keep ourselves healthy, and I've compiled them here.

1. Alignment

Aligning your body is SUPER important, and it can make or break anyone's lung power, stance, et cetera. I find that I tuck my pelvis under me, since my knees are usually locked, and that keeps a snowball rolling that causes me a lot of pain and issues. When you are aligned properly (with your ankle, knee, hip, and shoulder all making a straight line), this helps tremendously with any pain you may be having while standing up and delivering monologues or singing.

2. Fluid movement and low impact exercise

Low impact exercise is SO important! If you are hypermobile or have weak joints similar to me, your body can almost seize up when your muscles aren't being used. Even after going to physical therapy twice a week, I would still find myself creaking. I know you hear this everywhere, but 20-30 minutes of low impact exercise per day can help keep your joints in check. Of course, if you need to stop because of pain or injury, stop!

3. Proper typing apparatus and accessories

We need our hands and arms for theatre... right?

All jokes aside, keeping your hands and arms in check is an underrated tip. I recently developed median nerve neuropathy in my arms (also known as carpal tunnel). I have a full time job which requires me to type at a desk all day, so I took matters into my own hands. I happen to build keyboards, so I threw together a 60% layout (a small keyboard that gets rid of the arrow keys) and began learning the "home key" method of typing again, while also using a wrist rest. My next step is to get an ergonomic keyboard, but even simply elevating your wrists and assuming the right position can help you reduce pain and possibility of injury.

4. Theragun, foam rolling, or other similar devices

Have you ever felt pain relief after a friendly punch to the arm or neck? The Theragun might be for you! A Theragun (or any other similar device) is a muscle massage gun that rapidly "punches" you to relieve any pain and remove any knots. This device works wonders on your traps, and generally any shoulder or neck pain. I personally have not tried it on my legs, but I bet it feels GREAT!

Foam rolling is a manual alternative to this, using a longer, more fluid motion to remove tension in the muscles. If you go to a physical therapist, they certainly have taught you how to roll out your muscles. You can get foam rollers in all different types - I prefer a short cylinder one for my thighs and glutes, and a hand roller for the back of my calves. Rolling is most helpful when you can put your whole body weight on the roller, so I always recommend a simple foam one to start.

5. Support garments

Being hypermobile can truly be a pain. And I mean that literally. Sometimes, you bend your knee or elbow the wrong way, you find yourself with knee crepitus (crunchy knee, as I like to call it), or you develop tendonitis (all things I have done several times while in college!). When it comes down to this, having support garments is quite helpful.

For me, my arsenal consists of: athletic tape (KT tape or otherwise), wrist braces, elbow and knee compression garments, orthopedic inserts, compression socks, and special slippers with arch support. All of these things helps to (either preventatively or protectively) stabilize my joints during activities. Other great candidates include:

- The Body Braid: a full-body garment that can be used anywhere to help stabilize easily injured or bent joints, while providing a reminder of your body's natural alignment.

- a corset: Hear me out. If you have issues with your back alignment, a true corset (one that is made for support and not tightlacing), can help you sit up straight! If someone tries this out, PLEASE let me know how it goes!

- Capezio arch supports: I actually happen to have a pair of these, but I put them under the general category of "foot stuff". These are bands that can be worn under or over a dance shoe, and they use a sort of triangular shape to provide lift to the arch. These can be used even if you are not flat-footed to help pinpoint the arch muscles and ensure that you are dancing properly. I really do love these, and they're quite cheap!

- Other compression garments: there are many braces and compression garments that are made for other body parts, especially for people diagnosed with connective tissue disorders or seeing an orthopedic doctor. Compression garments can even help to improve spatial awareness and balance! If you have issues with your fingers, you can also buy or make small ring splints to assist in keeping your joints in the right place.

6. Pain relief and pain checkpoints

As someone who has constant semi-unexplained pain, I need to keep a plethora of items with me to keep me normal and pain free:

- NSAIDs (Advil, Aleve, etc.) are great for reducing pain and swelling. Keep some with you, and make sure that they are compatible with your body and will not interfere with any other medications!

- CBD or THC balms and salves: I have truly been saved by a THC transdermal gel - a non-psychoactive product which can be used to reduce pain at the sight it is applied. If you can get a medical-grade balm for achy joints, bruises, and muscle knots, it will help tremendously.

- Athletic tape: KT tape is quite useful on the go, as sometimes I may need to tape my knee for extra support.

- Compression garments: bringing braces or garments with you can be the difference between a comfortable day and an uncomfortable one. I have been going to work without my braces, and my hands have been suffering! If you remember to bring them, it can help a lot!

7. During shows - what do we do?

When we're in rehearsal or doing a run of a show, what do people with chronic pain do? There are several things you can do to help alleviate your pain while doing a show:

- If you have downtime, lay semi-supine! Laying on your back with your feet under you and your knees up can assist in realignment, and it feels REALLY good when you've spent plenty of time onstage! It can also assist with breath support too!

- Keep a pain relief station! Having a few doses of pain relief medications and having tapes, garments, balms, and more to assist you can really help you get through a show.

- Stretching! Stretching between shows or numbers can help keep your joints moving and prevent anything crazy happening with your muscles. You don't want to walk offstage having pulled something!

- Shoes OFF! If you wear dance heels (or any shoe, for that matter) onstage, and if you have downtime in between numbers, take your shoes off! Not only do your feet need to breathe, your muscles and bones have been cramped into a small space with nowhere to go. On top of that, you have been doing a lot of high-impact movement onstage if you have been: dancing, running, etc! So do your feet a favor: take the shoes off.

- Modify your shoes! Just like I would modify a keyboard with bandaids and grease, you can modify your shoes with inserts, toe pads, and heel pads. Gel inserts will greatly decrease the shock that your feet feel while walking and dancing, and therefore, can assist in keeping you pain-free, or as close to it as you can possibly get!

- Physical therapy! Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to be recovering from a major injury to attend physical therapy. As long as you primary doctor deems it necessary, you can do physical therapy for your whole body, or targeting problem areas. I have been working on hips, knees, and feet for a few months with my current therapist, and I can tell the difference when I don't do it vs. when I do.

There you have it: a few great ways to keep yourself healthy and moving, especially if you're hypermobile or have chronic pain! I have suffered for years in the name of "art", but I realized that you don't need to suffer to pursue your craft.


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