In the summer of 2015 I was training hard to learn my first Am-Am salsa showcase routine to compete at the Canada Salsa and Bachata Congress in Toronto (www.canadasalsacongress.com). I trained every day with my dance partner and I was highly motivated and determined to progress through a challenging professional routine and show what I had to offer.
But that all came to an abrupt halt on August 31. I suffered a stress fracture in my foot. Not only could I not dance, I quickly learned it wouldn’t heal in time for the competition.
To say I was devastated would be true. What I didn’t realize was the injury is quite possibly the best thing that’s happened to me in my journey as a salsa dancer, teacher and movement therapist. But that’s a story for another blog post.
If you find yourself injured and unable to dance, you can choose to mope and feel sorry for yourself and sit back while everyone else enjoys their hobby, like I was at first. Or you can do what I chose to do and take advantage of the downtime to heal smarter.
Instead of making the mistake I made here are five ways to approach your injury downtime to make good use of the time and come back stronger than before.
Give yourself time to heal properly
Once I got over the initial shock of being injured I needed to channel my motivation and energy into something else. I transferred my passion into healing so that I was able to come back stronger.
I went to the best sports injury doctor in the city who specializes in high-performance athletes. Dr Rob Nielsen and his team at Performance Health Group (www.performancehealthgroup.ca) in Vancouver helped with promoting the initial healing process and later getting my foot back into working order.
I read up on right diet that is best to heal a bone and I followed that religiously.
I ordered and customized inserts for my shoes to take the weight off my broken bone. I limited my walking and standing to just what was necessary.
I realized that healing a broken bone in your late 30s takes time so I gave myself not only the 8 weeks necessary to heal but added an additional month to be absolutely sure it was strong and ready for what I needed it to do. I chose to give it extra time after hearing from a friend who had a knee injury that never fully healed because she was in a hurry to dance again. Others with broken bones told me if they had one regret it was not taking the time to fully heal. I know it is tempting to start back when you’re ‘almost’ better.
But giving yourself time to heal is the best thing you can do in the long run. At the end of the day another 3 weeks may seem like an eternity when you’re injured but you will come back faster overall by taking your time.
Spend your downtime being productive
Getting injured forced me to stop training all of the technical aspects I had been working on because I was supposed to not put any weight on my injured leg. It’s kind of impossible to keep up your salsa training when you can’t take any steps! So I decided to rearrange my goals.
I had 6-8 weeks where I had to find something else to work on that didn’t involve standing. I brainstormed what needed work and came up with three things: armwork, core and flexibility. (What you chose as your goals will probably be different. Chose what makes sense for you!)
I searched for YouTube videos of ballroom armwork and copied along sitting on a chair in front of a mirror.
I adapted a Pilates mat class and developed a stretching regime that didn’t upset my healing foot.
When I came back to dancing I had advanced in my armwork, had a more integrated core and I was a lot closer to my splits, which had always been a goal for me.
Ease your way back into dancing
Another valuable piece of advice that I followed was to ease my way back into dancing. Often people will get the green light from their doctor to return to dancing and they go back at full speed as if they’d never left.
But think about it. After 6-8 weeks or more are you still in shape? Or are you likely to get a new injury from coming back without being in shape? Or reinjuring yourself and having to start over.
I read that returning from injury you should increase your workload by 10% a week. So if you took a 90 minute class each day before your injury you should start with 10 minutes of the class the first week and 20 minutes the next week and so on.
Start in flat shoes and work into heels in a few weeks when your body has adjusted to dancing again.
It may seem slow and painful at first to only dance for 10 minutes but it is worth it in the long run not to go full speed when you return as if nothing had changed.
Train smarter when you return
If I learned anything from my injury it was that I was not taking care of myself. I trained a few hours a day every day on cement in my heels because the practice space was free. I ate a lot of processed foods after practice to reward myself for getting through the challenging aspects of a very difficult new routine.
In hindsight I learned that practicing in less than ideal conditions and not eating right led directly to my injury. Now I am smarter about my training and my self care.
Nowadays I will not rehearse on cement nor will I social dance on cement unless I am in very cushioning runners.
I am careful to fuel my body with appropriate nutrition. This includes having protein shakes while I’m in the studio for long hours and can’t take a break to eat, eating a proper breakfast before a long day of rehearsal, coming prepared with healthy snacks and getting a lot of greens and hydration after practice. Find what works for you. Take the downtime to research good nutrition and self-care practices for athletes.
I have to treat my body well if I expect it to continue to support what I ask of it every day.
If you’re as involved as I am in your dance school or social dance community, then not dancing leaves a big void in your life. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
When I was injured I still made an effort to go to rehearsals and keep up to speed with the choreography and notes on technique. I took my yoga mat and did my pilates and stretches while my teammates rehearsed.
I went to socials and sat at the DJ booth talking to my friends and coaches.
You can still attend classes and continue to learn from what your teachers have to say to your classmates.
Plus the bonus of being able to catch up on all those amazing YouTube videos of your favourite social dancers and performers that you didn’t have time to watch before your injury. Or if you're like me and you never have time for friends and family you can catch up and reconnect with your support system.
These are just 5 ways that I chose to approach my unexpected downtime. As always, what works for you might be different. I'd love to hear what you've done during your downtime or suggestions for others during healing. Send me a message!
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