Many of us have experienced that sudden “twinge” of pain in the back of the thigh at some point during a dance class or a performance. Injury to the hamstring can be the result of a rapid overstretch after an improper warm up or less than optimal muscle control. A common area of the hamstring that dancers injure is the attachment at the sit bone. This can create pain in the buttock and down the back of the thigh. If you are dealing with persistent hamstring pain that just does not seem to let up, you could be experiencing sciatic nerve tension. The sciatic nerve can be compressed near the hamstring attachment at the sit bone. Compression on this nerve can prolong the sensation of a strained hamstring (pain and muscle tightness).
What predisposes a dancer to injuring their hamstring? Why can this injury linger? What can you do to recover from this type of injury and prevent it from reoccurring? Read on!
Why are the hamstring muscles easily injured with dancers?
A dancer will be more likely to injure their hamstrings if their hip flexor and quadriceps muscles (front of the thigh) are tight or shortened. This exerts increased tension on the hamstrings, making them vulnerable to injury. Dancers need exceptionally flexible hamstrings in their practice, therefore, if the hamstrings are under too much tension they will likely fail or tear (just like a frayed rope would tear if you continually pulled on it).
During a beautifully long arabesque line, a dancer needs strong gluteal muscles to lift their leg. Sometimes if a dancer has experienced back pain or does not train properly they can experience gluteal weakness which causes their hamstrings overwork. An overworked muscle fatigues and becomes tight, making it more susceptible to injury.
How can you prevent a hamstring injury?
Hamstring injuries can linger for a few reasons. Persistent muscle imbalances that keep the healing muscle on tension and continually aggravate it can slow the recovery process. To prevent this from occurring, stretching the hip flexors and quadriceps are very important. Perform the stretches frequently and for an equal amount of time as the hamstrings during class warm up.
Strengthening your gluteal muscles or more commonly referred to as your buttocks is key in successful recovery and prevention. When you lift your leg behind you (hip extension), focus on tightening your gluteal muscles first before your hamstrings engage. This will correct any muscle patterning issues and prevent overworking the hamstrings. Core strengthening will also help the body maintain optimal alignment and prevent length-tension problems.
Addressing sciatic nerve tension is also key to recovery after chronic hamstring injuries. Your physiotherapist can provide exercises to “free up” the nerve. Dynamic hamstring stretches also address nerve and fascial tension. Static stretches should only be performed after a vigorous cardio warm up. Focus on taking full breaths in and out while holding your stretch and do not push to the point of pain. A strong, mildly uncomfortable sensation while stretching is acceptable but you should be able to fully relax into the position. Being tense during a stretch because of pain will not allow the muscle to release.
Still have questions? Dealing with persistent pain yourself? Come see us at Donna Sarna Physiotherapy! We would love to get you back to your full capacity and improve your current class work or choreography.
Stay tuned for our next post on “Bladder Pain Syndrome”