From injury to performance: Lessons to share in dance and sports

This one day symposium which was jointly organised by the Royal Society of Medicine and Dance UK, was held at the Royal Society of Medicine headquarters in London on Monday 4th April 2011. The event was sold out and attended by a diverse range of dance teachers / educators, doctors / surgeons and medics involved in sport.

The aim of the day was ‘to provide practitioners with an opportunity to share knowledge and expertise’ addressing ‘the causes, impact, effective prevention and management of injuries in elite dance and sport’.

The day kicked off with an intriguingly honest account from Angela Towler (Dancer for Rambert Dance Company) who suffered a potentially career-threatening injury. Angela recounted not only how the injury affected her ability to perform, but how she had to mentally process the severity and the repercussions of her injury. This account truly highlighted how devastating injuries can be not just to the physical body of a dancer, but also to them as a person and human being. Angela finally discussed with the audience the importance of spotting weaknesses or injuries early so they can be dealt with efficiently by the right professionals and thus preventing injuries from getting unduly worse.

Dr John Brooks (Rugby Union and King’s College London) and Dr Colin Fuller (Research Consultant for FIFA Medical Assessment and Research Centre) explained how they investigate and collect information on injuries within professional football and rugby in order to help them manage and prevent injuries and increase the quality of performance, career length and playing time for their athletes. Although coming from quite a different field from dance, there seemed to be some basic principles which the dance industry could implement and benefit from.

There were also various presentations given by some of the top ankle and knee surgeons in the country who gave us very detailed and graphic insights (footage from inside the body itself!) into what procedures they perform on acute injuries found in elite athletes and dancers. Although the word ‘surgery’ sounds quite scary, they somehow managed to instil confidence in these procedures and although invasive, the results post rehabilitation were excellent. They advocated the importance of taking enough time out for physiotherapy and returning to activity in a gentle staged approach.

The overwhelming feeling from the day, which Denise Lewis OBE (Olympic Gold Medallist and Strictly Come Dancing star) emphasised in her presentation, was how vital it is to have a dedicated team around elite performers. Dancers and sports athletes alike need a professional team of experts around them who are able to support, advise and rehabilitate them when injuries are sustained with both the physical and mental repercussions. As heavily discussed throughout the day, the practical implication of creating this team of medics for dancers seems to be the next challenge, which is why it is so important that the National Institute of Dance Medicine and Science is set into motion and eventually rolled out across the country for all dancers. The last point which Denise Lewis OBE emphasised was the importance of good communication within these medical teams as this can dramatically aid in the prevention of injuries, which is surely the future for dancer’s health and well-being.

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