Colorado, USA. Photo by Steven Bratman
There I was, waiting for my flight to be called to whisk me off to take up a fantastic opportunity to further my studies in dance and injury diagnostics and rehabilitation methods - excited yet calm at the same time. My travel has been funded by a Lisa Ullman Travel Scholarship Award. This trip involves a month of intensive study and practical training at an injury clinic in Colorado Springs with the purpose of being able to shadow, train and work alongside one of my favourite dance physiotherapists - Joe McCaleb.
The programme also involves focus on my own rehabilitation and training to push my body further and get closer to full fitness - something I haven't been able to do fully since that fateful day in Spain. I am optimistic for the results and outcomes and keen to face the challenges that my body and I will be presented with. I have to admit I am a little nervous. Colorado Springs mountains are immense and I'm going climbing as part of a range of activities. Challenge on!
But, this is an exceptional opportunity. How often do you hear of a dancer having such personal and one to one rehabilitation, training, treatment, and over and above that, in-depth learning on such a subject? Will this allow me to become even more of an injury geek? It all sounds exciting now and it is, but when I reflect on what it's taken to get to this stage, it's a bit surreal.
Sometimes I wish I knew then what I know now, but then I wouldn't have necessarily have been exposed to all of the valuable insights I've had en route if I hadn't been through the journey, right? You know what they say, The way out is the way through..........
When I experienced my injury, my first port of call was A&E. It felt like an emergency, something serious had happened in my body. Yet, it wasn't really taken seriously by the hospital staff and as you know, pretty much dismissed. The continuous quest for treatment through the NHS was a "head banging against a brick wall" situation.
As athletes we need to appreciate that time is crucial when dealing with injury. We further know that the majority of dancers will continue to work whilst injured, diagnosed or not, creating further damage and requiring more complicated rehab.
So, what would you do if you got injured, or what did you do? Who would be your first port of call? Or do you not think it will happen to you?
Research shows that 90% of dancers experience injury. My research as a physical therapist continues to demonstrate that some dancers still look primarily to the general NHS for treatment even though most are aware that this does not, or will not provide the answers they require.
Ok, so I admit, I speak very generally. I'm sure some of you will have had positive experiences having gone to the NHS, or have absolutely had to go - I get that too. Others have used the NHS in the hope that they will gain an answer and treatment for their... lets call them minor injuries... but instead have left disappointed, angry, upset and with reason to complain. I frequently hear "Doctors know nothing", "I wasn't listened to", "it was a waste of time"... etc etc.
Newsflash 1. Doctors don't do dance!
In the main, the NHS GP's and most medics are simply not trained to deal with dance injuries or what are most commonly referred to as "sports" injuries. GP's and medics in the main are trained to spot and treat pathological viruses, diseases, organ defaults, mend broken bones and treat orthopaedic traumas.
Very few deal with the soft tissue connections, have a deep understanding of them or even hold much interest in that area. It's not specific to their general training, nor are the basics in vitamins, minerals or any alternative health practices opposing pharmaceutical pills. God help us if we start to mention fascia or fascial chains.
However in defence of some wonderful doctors, some of them do hold interest in those elements and some do understand the urgency for treatment. But, what if you don't find that doctor? What are our alternatives?
Newsflash 2: You do dance!
As the inhabitant of your working tool, the boss, the fine tuner, the quality assurance department, the instigator of what it does, how much responsibility do you take for listening to your body.
How much responsibility do you take for knowing what to do when there is a malfunction? We are happy when the body responds in the way we want/need it to, and we ask it for more all the time, as we strive to be the most versatile dancer. You would think that we should have an idea of what to do if something doesn't go according to plan, if there is a burn out, a twinge, a constant niggle, an impact, a snap and you are out of the game. Do you really know your vehicle and how to keep it running well?
Newsflash 3: Start saving!
Specialist physical advice and rehabilitation costs money. The suggestion to an artist to save seems almost ridiculous especially if you are just starting out or graduating - unrealistic - I know.
However due to the facts and figures of dancers experiencing injury, I can't stress enough how important it is and compare it almost to putting money aside for basic rent, healthy food, your next class to maintain your training and physical aptitude, or the next bus/train journey to an audition. Part of the reason my earlier injuries were self-rehabilitated was because I didn't have the money to pay for the specialist treatment I needed and as already mentioned, the NHS is ill equipped to deal with the diagnosis and treatment you may need.
As dancers we are becoming "luckier", with such schemes as the dancers hospitals, led by NIDMS, where there are specialists dealing specifically with dancers and dance specific injuries - for free. However, these are still few and far between - currently London and Birmingham as far as I am aware - and that's already an achievement. These places are not always easy to get to and not always able to provide next day or next week appointments.
You can imagine that there are many dancers hoping to access treatment via this option. I know that NIDMS are working very hard to open more of these facilities but in the meantime....
Newsflash 4: Insurance is worth it!
It took me a while to make this a priority in my dancing career but since I did, not only have I had peace of mind, I have access to professional specialist treatment pretty much immediately. I know that Dance UK and Equity, amongst others, offer insurance suggestions for dancers.
I actually chose a very specific high end corporate insurance company that offered me everything I could possibly want/need to access treatment immediately at a very fair price. I suggest you shop around as there are many options out there, a variety of packages and a variety of rates.
Of course there may be a sacrifice to make in order to take out an insurance policy but to be honest, I didn't need my gym membership anyway! What I know is I will always need is my dancing body to be fit and able.
If nothing more, this is just food for thought.
In the meantime - Colorado Springs has been incredible. Just a few days left!