Dance can put a large amount of stress on the back, especially as movement becomes more daring, more flexible and more difficult.
The lower back (lumbar spine) carries the most of your weight and takes the most stress.
The lower back is the most flexible part of the spine, it works to transfer weight through the pelvis and is therefore the most at risk of injury. The lumbar spine is the most common site for pain in the human body. Unsupported movement in the lower spine can lead to a wearing down of the discs in-between the vertebrae and weaken the ligaments increasing the risk of injury. The best way to protect the lower spine is to do our best to understand not just the basic spinal structure itself but to understand the musculature that supports it and therefore having a better awareness of the placement of our body.
In both national enquiries into dancers health conducted in the UK (Fit to Dance, 1993 and Fit to Dance 2, 2002) the lower back was reported to be the most common site for injury among the dancers of various styles. It was also found that dancers with lower back injuries had more injuries of other kinds (neck, upper back, pelvis, groin, hip, thigh, lower leg and foot) than those without, Dance UK’s Physiotherapy Advisory Group stated that from their experience they feel there could potentially be a link between lower back injuries and other injuries.
The anatomy bit - the lumbar spine
Includes 5 vertebrae
L1 controls specific abdominal muscles
L2 and L3 controls the area from thighs to the knees
L2, L3 and L4 controls the hip flexors, inner thighs and the tops of the thighs
L5 controls the back and outsides of the thighs
What can effect the lower back?
The position of the pelvis can affect the position of the lower spine- whether it is tilted too far either way. This is caused by the various muscles that control the movement of the pelvis, if any of those muscles is consistently tight or consistently weak then this can pull the pelvis out of whack (adductors, hamstrings, glutes, quads, abdominals etc.).
The iliopsoas, better known as the hip-flexors can be a source of lower back pain and stiffness. The iliopsoas is connected to the lower spine, the pelvis, and the thigh bone (femur). Stiffness in the iliopsoas, either due to overuse or weakness, can cause instability in the lower spine that should be addressed.
Fatigue posture- Dancers are well known to have to hold their dance styles perfect posture for long periods of time through classes, rehearsals and performances- but they are also well known to allow themselves to slip into what is know as fatigue posture when “relaxing”. Fatigue posture is when we relax the upper body, letting the shoulders roll forward and allowing the hips to either push forward and curving the lower spine or shifting all the weight onto one leg. “Slumping” or sitting in the hips can increase the pressure and the stress on the ligaments and joints that help to stabilise the spine. Sitting in a properly curved chair allows the spine to relax and takes the pressure off the lower back.
The other key area to address when thinking about the lower spine is the core. As talked about in a previous post about the core (which you can see here), having strong core muscles is something every dancer and performer should work to achieve and maintain as the centre of the body and the main stabiliser of the spine. All those times you have heard dance teachers, coaches, instructors or whoever saying things like “brace the core”, “hold the core” “contract the core to support the spine” they are all said for very good reason and should be taken seriously as part of your practice.
WORD OF WARNING
Back pain, however common, can be very serious. Yes, we all get occasional aches and pains, HOWEVER, if your back pain persists for more than a week OR gets any worse please see a professional such as a Physiotherapist or Chiropractor (ideally one who knows dancers).
We will soon be posting exercises and strengthening techniques both on our website and on our Instagram so watch this space!