Over the course of a dance career, nearly every dancer will experience muscle soreness at some point. Dancers often say things like “soreness means I worked hard in class” or “soreness is normal” – and oftentimes muscle soreness isn’t anything to worry about. But, what can dancers do to minimize the soreness to keep dancing and when does (or should) soreness become concerning?
What is “normal” soreness?
When starting back to dance after time off, learning new choreography, or starting to train in a new style or with a new instructor, there may be some discomfort associated with that.
While the exact cause of exercise-related muscle soreness isn’t clear, several factors have been suggested as contributors:
lactic acid accumulation
connective tissue damage
free radicals from oxidative stress
Muscle soreness is not necessarily a sign that something is wrong – it means the body was stressed more than it’s used to or in a different way. As long as it can recover and adapt, this is how strength is built. To learn more about how that happens, check out the Rest & Recovery blog.
Signs of exercise-related muscle soreness:
feeling of stiffness, tightness, or ache in the muscle belly during movement
hurts going down more than going up – stairs, squatting, demi plie, transitions between sitting and standing and floor and standing
feels uncomfortable and tight to begin, but overall feels better with and after movement
symmetrical between right and left sides
often comes on the morning after intense/increased activity – up to 2 days after activity
should resolve by 3-4 days after activity – but depends on severity of muscle damage, activity level during the sore days, and hydration, nutrition, and sleep habits
How can dancers manage muscle soreness?
The key to minimizing soreness is flushing out the chemical build-up (created by oxidative stress) and encouraging bloodflow. Some easy ways to accomplish this include:
SLEEP – this is when cells in your body repair, rebuild, and grow
Rehydrate and stay hydrated – this may include electrolytes
Incorporate plenty of flavonoids and omega-3 fatty acids into your diet
Stress management – anxiety can negatively impact sleep, appetite, and nutrient absorption
Go for a walk, ride a bike, dynamic stretches – the goal is to keep moving
Gentle foam rolling – no balls **I recommend using a soft foam roller (most are considered “standard” density and may be uncomfortable)
Cupping & massage – make sure you ask a professional for guidance!
Vibration/percussive therapy **with severe soreness, placing a massage gun sideways over the muscle for vibration only can be more comfortable and still beneficial
Compression garments – I often recommend Apolla socks
Epsom salt bath
Is it safe to return to dance while still sore?
If the soreness is mild-moderate, dancers should be able to return to dance – but with a longer warm-up. If the soreness is severe, quick movements and those at extreme ranges should be avoided. If mobility is limited, dancers will likely move differently which puts them at risk for injury – think, tight calves limiting demi plie causing the arches to roll in and increase stress at the knee. So yes, severe soreness may mean not participating in certain parts of class. Dancers can use that time for recovery and evaluating how they can better prepare for whatever caused the soreness in the first place – like perhaps strength training over the summer.
What can be done to prevent soreness?
To prevent soreness, you must have a solid recovery strategy. Stay tuned for a future blog about this topic! In the meantime, check out the Rest & Recovery blog to learn more about how recovery influences effectiveness of dance training.
How can dancers tell the difference between soreness and an injury?
Sometimes the lines between soreness and injury can be blurred. Future blog post to help you navigate this coming soon!
To learn more, check out the virtual workshop just posted to the CDM website!
Recovery Strategies for Dancers:
Reduce Soreness and Feel Energized Between Performances