Injuries: Morton’s Neuroma

A comment on my foot pain post reminded me that I had missed Morton’s Neuroma. How could I forget something so painful? Must have blocked it out.

A neuroma is technically a tumor. Morton’s Neuroma is NOT a tumor, but the name has been used for so long that it is here to stay. The true technical term is Morton’s metatarsalgia. This is a thickening of the sheath that surrounds the nerves that converge between the 3rd and 4th toes (usual place) or the 2nd and 3rd toes (less common). This thickening is caused by irritation caused by pressure or trauma. The pain associated is often described as burning and shooting and happens when the foot bears weight, meaning when you stand, walk, run…and dance.
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The picture above is from a website run by a podiatrist in Southern California: Dr. Daniel Bank. Clicking on that link takes you to his page on common foot problems.

In college, I dealt with this as well as sesamoiditis. When this pain hit me, I thought it was sesamoiditis again, so I self-treated this one by doing what my PT had done for the sesamoiditis: my PT made a pad from thick moleskin to cover the ball of my foot, but there was a hole cut in it over the area of the inflammation. This prevented me from putting weight on that area. We put a similar pad without the hole on my other foot so that my alignment was not affected. I wore dance shoes in all of my modern classes until it was healed. This healed, too.

Now, very often the cause of the Morton’s pain is attributed to shoes that are too tight or to tight high heels. The toes are squeezed together which irritates the nerves between the toes. This eventually causes a thickening of the sheath that surrounds the nerves which adds more pressure on the nerves…and now we have pain. Apparently this pain occurs mainly between the 3rd and 4th toes because 2 nerves converge here, but it can also happen between the 2nd and 3rd toes as well.

So what to do about those tight shoes in Irish dance? I am a proponent of the close-fitting dance shoe. In general, a loose shoe does not help the foot look its best. In ID, if the hard shoe in particular is loose it not only looks bad, but it can then offer NO support for the dancer in toe stands. Hmmm…back to that thought that someone needs to design the perfect ID hard shoe…

But there is perhaps another reason that MN happens. It occurred to me as I was thinking about this post that I dealt with MN when I was in college as a MODERN DANCER…I did not wear shoes. I had a suspicion. So, I went surfing the net to see what I could find…

“Pronation of the foot can cause the metatarsal heads to rotate slightly and pinch the nerve running between the metatarsal heads. This chronic pinching can make the nerve sheath enlarge. As it enlarges it than becomes more squeezed and increasingly troublesome.

Tight shoes, shoes with little room for the forefoot, pointy toeboxes can all make this problem more painful.

Walking barefoot may also be painful, since the foot may be functioning in an over-pronated position. “

There it was! That nasty problem, OVER-PRONATION!!! It always comes back to mis-use of the leg and foot! Here is what over-pronation looks like:

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Why is this a problem? Some pronation happens when we walk, run, jump, etc, because it is part of the landing mechanism of the foot. Over-pronation because of weakness, incorrect alignment, and/or faulty movement technique weakens the structure of the foot by putting stress on the bones and soft tissues of the foot which will eventually cause pain not only in the foot but also the knees, hips and even the back.

So, what to do about MN? Making sure the toes are not squeezed by excessively tight shoes will help alleviate the pressure on the nerve. A pad as I described above might also help alleviate some pain. And if over-pronation is part of your problem, arch supports can help because they can prevent the arch from rolling in. Better yet, having orthotics made specially for you might be even better.

And then learn how to use your legs right. Most over-pronation in dancers is caused by not understanding how to rotate the leg in the hip socket. Dancers hear, “Turn your feet out” so that is what they do, turn their feet out. Yes, the knees and thighs follow, but turn-out happens more effectively and safely if the hips turn out first so that the thighs, knees and feet follow them! And if the hips are correctly rotating, then the leg stays in alignment which means the foot will most likely not over-pronate (there are always exceptions to the rule!).

To learn about the hips and find a simple exercise to train the hips to turn out correctly, go here: Hips and Turning out

Click for more kinesiology info: Dance Kinesiology

To start educating yourself, try here.

Injuries: Foot Pain

(Please remember: Pain is your friend. It is signalling that there is a problem to be addressed. Do not ignore it. Seek professional advice.)

I woke up early with a post in my head…felt the need to write about feet. No, no…no foot fetish here. On the contrary…I actually have a very pronounced distaste for feet, toes in particular. Quickest way to get me off the couch is to touch me with your toes or, worse yet, put your feet in my lap for rubbing. AIN’T happening!!! Poke me with your toes and you might lose one.

But, feet are necessary, aren’t they? I have had my fair share of foot trouble, most of it when I was a modern dancer in college. Why? Because I did not understand hip rotation correctly which meant I was hyper-pronating my feet. There was also the added stress on my feet of dancing bare-foot…up until college I wore tight ballet shoes, jazz shoes or tennis shoes (pom-pon girl!). My poor feet were in shock when I took up modern dance in college!

Anyway, foot pain can be debilitating for a dancer for obvious reasons. There can of course be as many reasons for pain as there are dancers, but in my experience, a huge contributing factor to foot pain for so many dancers is hyper- or over-pronation.

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Sometimes over-pronation is simply caused by the fact that you have flat feet meaning the arch of your foot is very low or non-existent. If you were born with flat feet, this may not be painful for you. If flat feet are a new occurrence, it probably is. Either way, the sheer fact that the arch is collapsed allows the foot to over-pronate.

Over-pronation in dancers and athletes is usually caused by faulty biomechanics of the leg as a whole. Being evaluated by a doctor or sports therapist will help identify the problem so it can be addressed.

Here are some common foot problems.

1) Plantar Fasciitis: This is pain felt under the foot at the heel, in the arch, and/or all the places in between. The pain is caused initially by inflammation and swelling of the plantar fascia, and can worsen as tears and bone spurs develop.

“The plantar fascia is a ligament attached to the heel bone (calcaneus) that divides and fans out to attach at the base of the toes (metatarsals). Layers of muscles, tendons, nerves, and blood vessels run over the bottom of the foot. The plantar fascia covers these layers and acts as a bowstring on the bottom of the foot, helping the bones of the foot maintain the arch. A fat pad covers the plantar fascia beneath the heel bone; this pad cushions the heel as it takes the force of each footstep.”WebMD

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Plantar fasciitis can not only put you on the sidelines of dance, it can make the rest of your locomoting life miserable as well. See your doctor for diagnosis and help with the pain. Show your doctor what you do…if there are alignment issues, specifically with the leg and foot when turned out, get thee to a sports therapist or trainer so someone can help you learn to use your outward rotation correctly. More hip rotation info here: Hips & Turning Out

Treatment: R.I.C.E.R. This is rest (R), ice(I), compression(C), elevation(E), and getting that referral (R) for the necessary medical treatment. This is ALL so important. In my book, REST (meaning, NO DANCING!) is most important whether we like it or not. ICE alleviates pain as well as inflammation. COMPRESSION (ace bandage or taping) and ELEVATION (above the hip joint) both help to alleviate inflammation as fluids are directed out of the affected area. Anti-inflammatory over-the-counter medications like Ibuprofen (Tylenol is not an anti-inflammatory medication even though it is a pain killer) help this process as it alleviates the swelling as well as the pain. And then, to stop the pain train, REFER this problem to an expert: an orthopedic doctor, a sports medicine doctor, a sports therapist. There must be an analysis of any misalignment and pronation, and then professional direction for correction through re-training, strengthening, stretching, taping, adding orthotics if needed, etc.

2) Heel pain in children: This pain might be in the same place as plantar fasciitis, but can be caused by apophysitis instead of irritation of the fascia. Apophysitis is an irritation/swelling of bone growth plates that have not fused yet. Examples of apophysitis are calcaneal (heel, Sever’s Disease), tibial (shin, Osgood-Schlatter Disease), and iliac (hip).

Treatment: Go to the doctor. More info here:

3) Achilles tendonitis: This is pain felt at the back of the heel and/or from the heel up the back of the ankle. The pain is caused by the inflammation and swelling of the irritated achilles tendon. This tendon attaches the 2 calf muscles, the gastrocnemius and the soleus, to the back of the calcaneus (the heel bone).

Tendonitis is, for the most part, an over-use syndrome. Implications for treatment? Stop using it!! Treatment: R.I.C.E.R. (see above)

In my experience with dancers, tendonitis can be the result of trying to point the foot using the ankle only. It is important to understand that a pointed foot is accomplished by movement in 3-4 areas, not just one. 1st you move your ankle, then the bones in the tarsus (the area in front of the ankle), then the metatarsals (the long foot bones), then lastly the phalanges (toes). Learning how to use and articulate the intrinsic muscles in your feet can help alleviate the pain of tendonitis because you are no longer trying to use only your ankle. Trying to get more point out of your foot by pulling hard on your heel bone is a common cause of this problem in dancers. For more info, see On your toes.

4) Big toe joint pain, Bunions: This was my bugaboo. Started within months of going to college and starting modern dance. What changed? I was not wearing shoes which meant that there was no outside help for my over-pronation. As my feet spread, no longer being contained by tight dance shoes or supported by the arch in my athletic shoes, my over-pronation became worse which put tremendous pressure on my big toe joints. Taping my arch up helped. Powerful anti-inflammatory drugs helped. Cortisone shots helped (though they also made the joints crunchy). But all I really needed was to learn how to rotate my hips correctly which happened as soon as I went to grad school. It was that simple.

Now, of course in my undergraduate journey, I was told that I had bunions. “Bunions are often described as a bump on the side of the big toe. But a bunion is more than that. The visible bump actually reflects changes in the bony framework of the front part of the foot. With a bunion, the big toe leans toward the second toe, rather than pointing straight ahead. This throws the bones out of alignment, producing the bunion’s ‘bump.'” Foot Physicians

One zealous doctor wanted to operate, to break my feet to straighten things out. Only problem was that I might not really dance again. I opted to deal with the pain a bit longer! So glad I did, because I did not have bunions, just faulty leg and foot mechanics.

If you are diagnosed with bunions, get thee to a sports doctor who specialises in runners to get help. The best would be a doc who specialises in dancers, but these are few and far between.

5) Sesamoiditis: This is pain caused again my inflammation and swelling, this time of the tendon that encases the sesamoid bones at the base of your big toe. These little bones develop in the tendon under the big toe to act as shock absorbers. I would imagine that sesamoiditis is fairly common in Irish dance because the technique requires jumping and landing on the ball of the foot.

Treatment: as soon as you feel any bruising on the ball of the foot, stop dancing and ice it! If you take care of it, it does not have to be a huge problem. But, obviously, if the pain continues or is severe, go to the doctor. When I had this, my PT made a pad from thick moleskin to cover the ball of my foot, but there was a hole cut in it over the area of the sesamoid inflammation. This prevented me from putting weight on that area. We put a similar pad without the hole on my other foot so that my alignment was not affected. I wore dance shoes in all of my modern classes until it was healed.

For more on the sesamoids, go here: Sesamoid injuries.

6) Ankle sprains, strains, and breaks of all kinds: Go to the doctor.

More: Foot and ankle information

Click for more kinesiology info: Dance Kinesiology

To start educating yourself, try here.

Dance Teacher Education

I had forgotten that a comment on one of the kinesiology posts had sparked a few thoughts for me:

Beth M. said…
Ann, I was glad to see your post on uneducated dance teachers. I have been “rehab”-ing Irish dance injuries through pilates for the last 3 years. I had made a similar comment about An Com adding anatomy and physiology to the TC exam on Brooke’s blog; however, in thinking over the last few weeks I came to the following conclusion: CLRG’s role in certifying new instructors is only in administering an exam (both written and practical) to persons wishing to become certified Irish dance instructors. Those wishing to become teachers are left to learn the material on their own (through videos) or with the help of an existing certified TCRG (a TC does have to recommend them for the exam). Would uneducated teachers then help to create more uneducated teachers? Where would they get the correct knowledge? How can this be changed?

This comment was posted about the time I was researching the TCRG exam and writing “Dear An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha…” . Her last 3 questions are important ones not just for ID teachers but for all dance teachers. The lack of anatomical and kinesiological knowledge in the dance field as a whole is not new information. Where/how can a dance teacher learn this information?

Your best bet is to see what is offered at your local college. If there is a dance department, see what body knowledge classes they offer. If they offer none or there is no dance program, check out the Physical Education department. Unless it is solely a health management program, it would be highly unusual if the PE department did not have sports kinesiology or injury prevention & rehabilitation. Sometimes folks get fancy with the names, so call if you can’t decipher their course titles. Even though classes in the PE department will not be designed to look at movement from the dance point of view, the concepts are exactly the same. Perhaps your teacher will be game to help you translate the info for use in dance. One of the sports kines classes that I took was taught by this 6’3″ muscle-bound ex-football player…whose passion was lyrical ballroom dancing! He was thrilled to have a dancer in his class!

Now, suppose you have nothing at your local college or you cannot afford a college course? Can you do it on your own? Yes. This book, Dance Kinesiology by Sally Sevey Fitt can teach you just about everything you need to know. Take it page by page…stand up and learn how the information in the book pertains to your own body…use the book to learn how your own body works.

Am I talking about memorizing the book? No. You can memorize all the bones and joints and muscles if you want. It is in there. But what is also in there, the most important thing in there, is the framework for evaluating all movement. You will learn about the planes of movement and how gravity dictates movement. You will learn about joint classifications and the planes the joints are meant to move in. You will learn how the muscles move bones, how the pulleys affect the levers. Then you will have a framework for looking at a dancer’s movement, and this will help you to then zero in on specific movement issues which means even if you do not have all of the necessary info in your head to fix the problem right then and there, you will know what information you are looking for when you go back to the books.

Does your kinesiology training need to be specific to the dance/movement form you are engaged in? No. Movement of the human body is non-denominational! Rotation of the leg in the hip socket is the same in ballet as it is in fencing. The position of the pelvis affects movement the same way in Irish dancing as it does in tae kwon do. Hyper-pronation of the feet causes just as much pain for a runner as it does for a modern dancer. From lifting and throwing my male partner one year, I developed the same thrower’s arm pain as a baseball pitcher. This is why a sports kinesiology class can be just as valuable as a dance kinesiology class…the concepts are the same.

Reminds me…I was recruited for the track team at school when I was about 13 after I threw myself over the high bar during PE class. I stood up after hitting the mat, and both the girls and boys coaches were staring at me. The male coach told me to, “Do that again.” So I ran at the bar and threw myself over. When asked how I got over the bar with such height, I just shrugged…I was 13! What did I know!? I became a high jumper…and I hated track. I remember feeling so exposed during meets as coaches used to line up their boys to watch me…and then they’d discuss what they saw. After that season, I just went back to being a ballerina…having boys and men line up to watch me throw myself over a bar was unnerving! At least in a theatre those staring at you are in the dark!!! (Eeww…maybe it is all creepy…)

Now I can look back at that and see how my training as a ballerina made me a good high jumper. I was strong, yes, but it was also about the specific placement of my pelvis as I launched myself through space…the same placement I used to launch myself through the air in ballet class. The physics was the same.

It has come to my attention that my blog posts are being perceived by some as specific attacks on ID teachers. Except for the occasional specifically focused rant, that is not my intention. Irish dance is the dance form that my 3 divas are involved in so that is where my attention is currently focused. But, if I had had a blog years ago, I would have been taking modern dance, ballet, and jazz specifically to task, also. I did take them to task in my university courses as year after year students came in with bizarre ideas about how the body worked and the injuries to prove that they were bound and determined to make the body work that way!

Knowledge of how the body actually works is not as scarce in dance teachers as it once was. Generally, dancers and teachers who get college dance degrees are more educated in body knowledge because most dance degree programs have some sort of body knowledge courses these days. There are ballet and jazz degree programs, but most college dance programs are modern (at least in the US), but again it is not about the specific dance technique. I know there is now an Irish Dance Degree in Ireland (yay!), though I do not know what the curriculum is like. But, historically, the tradition of dance teacher training has been about passing the information, correct or not, from teacher to student in the dance studio. When I first started teaching at 14, my classes were exact replicas of my teacher’s! It is how it works.

But dance is not an ethereal, esoteric experience in the ether…we work with real substance – the human body. And there are rules of anatomy and physics that dictate how that human body works. Just because my dance teacher told me that the muscles under my leg would lift my leg high did not make it so!!! My leg finally went high the day I discovered that the muscles on the front did the very real lifting work! My chronic injuries, my students’ chronic injuries all disappeared as we learned the realities of moving the human body, of moving our own unique human bodies.

I am not dictating here HOW one should teach a specific technique. I am crusading for safe teaching no matter the form. Why does that piss some people off?

Click for more kinesiology info: Dance Kinesiology

To start educating yourself, try here.

Injuries: Shin Splints

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket (From the Mayo Clinic.)

Shin splints are a drag. Plain and simple. Irish dance is all about being on the toes and jumping/hopping almost continually, all of which is just asking for shin splints. I wonder if there is a higher incidence of shin splints in ID since the technique requires that the heels never contact the floor?

As usual, there are many things that can contribute to a dancer getting shin splints, but along with the rehabilitation and treatment options, there is really only one cure when you get them…rest. No dancer wants to hear that, but it is a fact. And then once the pain is gone, besides starting activity again slowly and carefully, there are things that need to be evaluated and addressed so that the shin splints do not return, and that requires a professional. See an orthopedic doctor to make sure all is well…spill your guts about your shoes and the floors you dance on. And then head off to a sports therapist or trainer. Shin splints do not have to be a chronic problem.

I found this great definition at “Splints (Periostitis) – The term shin splints is a common misnomer in sports medicine. It does not imply a specific diagnosis, rather it is the symptom of pain over the front of the tibia bone. The pain from shin splints can be due to either problems of the muscles, the bone, or the attachment of the muscle to the bone. Therefore, ‘shin splints’ is simply the name given to pain over the front of the lower leg.”

The more common technical phrase for shin splints is “medial tibial stress syndrome.” Other problems such as posterior compartment syndrome and stress fractures can also cause shin pain.

Shin splints are very often caused by an overload on the tendons and connective tissues that attach the muscles of the lower leg to the shin bone, the tibia, causing inflammation and pain. For dancers, this overload can be caused by jumping back into vigorous exercise after there has been a lay off and dancing as if one is still in peak form. It can be caused by dancing on concrete floors. It can be caused by bad posture that contributes to leg misalignment. It can be caused by medially rotated hip joints, knock-knees, flat feet, feet with really high arches, and loose ligaments in the foot and ankle that allow hyper-pronation. It can be caused by not rotating from the hip sockets as this encourages hyper-pronation. It can be caused by tight calf muscles and an imbalance of the relative strength between the muscles of the lower leg. In this same vein, a rapidly growing dancer in peak form might develop some symptoms because of the difference in growth rates of the bones and muscles…bones grow first, muscles catch up.

In my experience as a dancer and teacher, I have found that one huge contributor to shin splints is over- or hyper-pronation of the foot. Pronation happens when you roll your foot inward, dropping your arch closer to the floor. Hyper-pronation is very common in dancers who force their turn-out from their knees and ankles. Forced turn-out results in habitual hyper-pronation which sets a dancer up for shin splints (as well as big toe joint pain, bunions, fallen arches/plantar fascia pain, knee problems, etc, etc, etc). Landing from jumps does involve some pronation as it is part of the landing mechanism of the foot, but over-pronation, loose ligaments, flat feet, or even arches that are too high all mess with the landing mechanism (the sequence of events in the foot) which puts tremendous strain on the lower leg muscles and all the connective tissues which then pull on the tibia. And once again, because we women have wider hips, the angles of the applied forces used to jump and land are more acute which exacerbates the problem…translation, women and girls are more prone to shin splints just as they are to knee and hip problems.

Obviously, the sheer pain of shin splints can and will stop a dancer in her tracks. So, taking care of them is paramount. But there are those who want to be brave, who want to dance through the pain. Please don’t. Stress fractures can result if shin splints do not heal and the underlying causes are not addressed, and then you are on to a whole new set of problems that take even longer to heal. The Mayo Clinic advises that you should “[c]onsult your doctor if rest, ice and over-the-counter pain relievers don’t ease your shin pain. Seek prompt medical care if:

*Severe pain in your shin follows a fall or accident
*Your shin is hot and inflamed
*Swelling in your shin seems to be getting worse
*Shin pain persists during rest

So, how do we prevent shin splints?

1) If you are coming back after a break, start slowly. We like to go at it gang busters as if we never stopped, and your body will oblige you because of the sheer excitement of being back in class. But you will pay by being very sore and by perhaps setting the shin splint train in motion.

2) Make sure there is an adequate calcium intake, especially for growing children and girls going through puberty. I am a firm believer in calcium supplements (unless there are kidney issues).

3) Warm up well and correctly, add more strengthening exercises for the lower leg such as slow releves (click here for more info) and this one with a partner:

Sitting on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you, pull your toes back so they are pointing up to the ceiling.Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Partner, put your hands on the top of the feet and try to make the feet move to a pointed position while your sitting partner resists you. You are pulling your hands towards you while your partner’s feet are pulling against your hands, pulling towards them. Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

This helps strengthen the muscles at the front of the leg. Do this 10 times, holding for a count of 10, and then relax in between. (My wimpy model, Maggie, started whining that this was hard…guess we should be doing these regularly.)

4) STRETCH!!! Go here for pics of the 3 most effective stretches. I always did these with my students before class gently, and then again at the end, though we did the stretch for the front of the leg differently than it shows in the link. The third stretch in the series that stretches the front of the lower leg is a great one. And I like the fact that it is shown being done while sitting. This puts you totally in charge of the stretch. Just make sure your foot is aligned correctly with your lower leg…see pic #3 below.

That same lower front leg stretch can be done GENTLY with your partner after the exercise I illustrated above.

First, for both of you, identify the straight point position.

#1 – This is an inverted/sickled pointed position. This is incorrect.
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When you are stretching make sure the foot is not sickled as in #1 above and as it is in this pic below.
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#2 – This is an everted/winged position. While this can be a desirable position (in ballet in particular), I feel it trains the foot to habituate a hyper-pronated position. To me, this is incorrect.
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No matter your feeling on winging, when you are stretching make sure the foot is not everted as in #2 above and as it is in this pic below.
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#3- This is a wonderfully aligned foot. Good point, nice straight line down the shin through the foot.
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That is the position in which I GENTLY stretch the foot through its point. Notice in the pic below that I am using two hands. I grasp the foot and gently pull it towards me as I slowly stretch the foot out and then down. Do not simply press down as that will compress the ankle and heel. You will know you are doing it correctly when your dancer sighs and says, “Oh Mama, that feels so good…aahhh.”
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They will feel a nice gentle stretch above and below where I am indicating here on Maggie’s shin.
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5) If you do pronate, you should consider arch supports. you can buy them at the drugstore, but I personally would talk to a professional about getting orthotics that are built just for you. It is SO worth the time and expense to safeguard your dancing body.

Something to think about if your pronate your feet is that if your shoes are stretched out they are offering no real support for your feet, even if you do have arch supports. Loose shoes and dancing should not go together.

6) If you do dance on concrete floors, please get some thick insoles for your shoes, soft and hard alike. I personally love the gel insoles. More padding in the shoe means more safety for the dancer.

Ok. So…you have been the model of responsible dancer health, but you have been hit with shin pain. It is the first night after your first class after a long vacation. Or you have been growing. Or you have been working on a new floor. Or you are working harder on your turn-out. Or you are just plain working as hard as you can for the coming Oireachtas. Damn. Now what?

R.I.C.E.R. This is rest (R), ice(I), compression(C), elevation(E), and getting that referral (R) for the necessary medical treatment. This is ALL so important. In my book, REST (meaning, NO DANCING!) is most important whether we like it or not. ICE alleviates pain as well as inflammation. COMPRESSION (ace bandage or taping) and ELEVATION (above the hip joint) both help to alleviate inflammation as fluids are directed out of the affected area. Anti-inflammatory over-the-counter medications like Ibuprofen (Tylenol is not an anti-inflammatory medication even though it is a pain killer) help this process as it alleviates the swelling as well as the pain. And then, to stop the shin splints train, REFER this problem to an expert: an orthopedic doctor, a sports medicine doctor, a sports therapist. There must be an analysis of any misalignment and pronation, and then professional direction for correction through strengthening, stretching, taping, and adding orthotics if needed. If dancing is important to you, take shin pain seriously.

More resources: I have to say here that the best information I found came from sports or running sites. The dance sites, except for Harkness, were incomplete, derivative, and frustratingly crunchy-granola. Please feel free to send more links to me.

Wikipedia: Shin Splints – excellent, though very technical, explanation of the causes of shin splints, how misalignment of the foot causes the muscles to work in an imbalanced way which puts excess stress on the tissue connecting to the tibia.


The Stretching Handbook

The Runner’s Web

Google it…there is so much on the web it makes my head spin.

Click for more kinesiology info: Dance Kinesiology
To start educating yourself, try here.

"Dear An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha…"

There have been interesting conversations happening about what Irish dance teachers should know in terms of body mechanics and kinesiology. There are strong feelings on both sides of that fence. Links to this blog have been posted a couple of times on the TCRG exam board…but they were removed because dance kinesiology and even the discussion of whether or not ID teachers should know this information is not currently relevant to taking the ID teaching exam. Fair enough.

I was interested in what is required to pass the TCRG (teaching) exam. This is from the syllabus at

The examination consists of six sections as follows:-
(a) practical test in stepdancing
(b) written ceili dancing test
(c) practical test in teaching ceili dancing
(d) practical test in teaching stepdancing
(e) written music test
(f) oral Irish language test (optional if candidate lives outside Ireland).

The syllabus also includes detailed information on each section of the exam: TCRG Exam components

Very, very thorough and intense examination process. When certified, TCRGs are rather incredible resources for Irish dance history…by the very act of certification, the Irish dance historical survival is ensured. Fantastic.

So what about addressing the current situation in which contemporary ID teachers are leading ID forward by continuing to introduce innovative steps into Irish dance which is making it more athletic and changing it from being simply a folk dance form, as many folks call Irish dance?

That being said, I looked up the definition of folk dance. Wikipedia says this:

Folk dance is a term used to describe a large number of dances, mostly of European origin, that tend to share the following attributes:

1) They were originally danced in about the 19th century or earlier (or are, in any case, not currently

2) Their performance is dominated by an inherited tradition rather than by innovation;
3) They were danced by common people and not exclusively by aristocracy;

4) They have been developed spontaneously and there is no governing body that has final say over what “the dance” is or who is authorized to teach it. This also means that no one has the final say over the definition of folk dance or the minimum age for such dances.

Some other definitions also state clearly that folk dance forms have evolved without the benefit of a choreographer… I think this is another way of saying that folk dances “develop spontaneously.”(For more great definitions and resources, click here.)


So does Irish dance qualify as a folk dance?

Of course it does. Irish dance encompasses ceili dancing, set dancing, and sean nós as well as step dancing. The first three forms definitely satisfy the criteria above…except for the “governing body” part, but I will get to that in a moment. Irish dance does have a rather long history of dancing masters who developed their own steps…I read somewhere that these dancing masters had their “territories,” areas where only they taught dance and others were not welcome. I have also read that sometimes dancing masters were kidnapped to teach in new areas…gotta love the Irish! So, although there is this idea that folk dance “develops spontaneously” (sounds like the myth of the fruit fly!), except for the improvisational forms (i.e. sean nós) someone, somewhere “choreographed” the dances, even if it was by committee over a long period of time or, as with the Irish, the dancing masters who helped spread the tradition.

Now, this “governing body” idea… I looked up a few things to see if other folk dance forms have programs to certify teachers. Yes they do exist, though I did not find any that were as big and organized as the CLRG (An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha). But it does seem as if folk dance certifying bodies are all interested in preserving their own dance form’s history, just as CLRG is.

This is a wonderful thing, of course, but it makes me smile because of its irony. There is a peculiar characteristic of the Irish (not that it does not exist in other cultures, but being Irish meself, this has familial implications as well)…if I had to describe ONE trait that seems to be genetic in the Irish, it is our contentious individual independence. “You wanna tell me what to do? Go suck a lemon!!!” When was the one time that Ireland was unified under one leader? The early 11th century under Brian Boru, and that only lasted about 12 years! But, threaten me, challenge me, and then my brothers and sisters will stand right behind me…we’ll unify!! My father always talked about how my siblings and I would fight and tease each other mercilessly, but as soon as one of us was in need, the wagons would circle, no questions asked. Being fractious is an Irish trait, for better and for worse.

And yet, we have had CLRG since 1930. It was established by the Conradh na Gaeilge (the Gaelic League) which itself was created in 1893 to preserve the Irish language. And I am guessing that the motivation behind this was to unite against those who would deprive the Irish of their culture… circle the wagons as the oppressed are wont to do. And Irish dance has flourished.

So, the folk dance angle…yes, I see most of ID as fitting into the folk dance category, even if we do have a “governing body” (can’t do EVERYTHING like everyone else!). But, is Irish step-dancing still classified as folk dance? Is step dancing “dominated by an inherited tradition rather than by innovation,” as stated above? No, innovation now seems to be the order of the day.

I have not been able to find that the CLRG states that Irish dance is a folk art, yet folks argue that CLRG is only there to certify the teachers on their historical knowledge of this folk dance form. One cannot compete at feiseanna unless one’s teacher is certified by the CLRG. (I know there are other ID organizations…)

But Irish step dancing is no longer folk dance. Innovations are happening at an ever-increasing rate. Fantastic. No problem. But, as any dance form evolves, so should the teachers. The first section of the TCRG exam is a “practical test in stepdancing” followed later by a “practical test in teaching stepdancing.” If what is being tested is the historical knowledge of what are considered to be the traditional steps, why are teachers not restricted to using only traditional steps in their choreography for competitions? If having the teacher certification is so important, and they are not restricted in this manner, then who is governing the step innovations, making sure that teachers know how to teach them? In order to get the certification, don’t teachers have to demonstrate that they themselves know and can perform the traditional steps? So why do they not have to know and be able to perform all of the new steps that are now being used in solo Irish dancing? Is that not within the purview of the CLRG?

I do not fault the CLRG for the state of things, but since it is such a strong presence in ID, is it not now time to step up to the plate and address the very serious issue of their certified teachers knowing how to safely and correctly teach students how to perform the new steps, the tricks that have been borrowed from other dance forms? There are many ID teachers who have taken it upon themselves to be educated in anatomy and kinesiology, but what about those who haven’t, those who say that since the CLRG does not require it they do not need to know it?

This is from the exam syllabus:

14. Rince Aonair: Stepdancing Teaching Test

…Amongst the qualities taken into account in assessing a candidate’s capabilities in this section are:-
(1) Instruction (should be clear, concise and suitable for those under instruction);
(2) Clarity and audibility of instructions;
(3) Ability to demonstrate and break down steps;
(4) Selection of suitable steps;
(5) Manner of handling dancers;
(6) Identification and correction of faults.

The CLRG DOES want to know that a teacher can identify and correct faults…but since only certain traditional steps are identified on the syllabus, those are the only steps the exam candidates worry about.

Since the CLRG already has a teaching evaluation as part of the exam, can they not start to include some of the harder steps (toe stands, changement, entrechat, etc…) that have made their way into mainstream ID into this evaluation along with rocks, cross keys, trebles, etc? CLRG did make a ruling against toe stands for dancers under 12. To me, that means that the organization has acknowledged that toe stands have made it into mainstream ID. Is CLRG evaluating their teacher candidates on their ability to correctly evaluate whether or not their students are ready to execute toe stands and then how to teach them safely?

Now, this does not address the issue of dance teachers being fully educated in human movement, but it would be a start. Adding another component in this area would be quite an enterprise and one that CLRG may not want to take on. Perhaps in the future a class in kinesiology or injury prevention & rehabilitation will be required in order to take the exam. That is simple enough.

Here’s my plea:

Dear An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha,
Irish dance is changing, and you have a significant place in this growth as either a support for innovation or as a brake to keep ID traditional. Your certified teachers, the wonderful repositories of Irish dance history, are moving forward as many believe they should. They trust you. You have created an excellent exam…if innovation is to be encouraged, please think about including other elements to be tested in the step dancing portions. Please consider requiring a class in kinesiology, or anatomy, or injury prevention & rehabilitation before a candidate can take the TCRG exam. Please add your authoritative voice to this discussion.



Click for more kinesiology info: Dance Kinesiology
To start educating yourself, try here.

Morning Musings

I wear one of those magnetic copper bracelets from Sergio Lub. I first heard of them many years ago, but never had one until this past spring when I bought one while I was in Louisiana to teach at the stage combat workshop. Even though my hips were better at that point (meaning, I was not reduced to crutches at that point), I was still walking with a pronounced and embarrassing limp. When I cannot walk well I wish I had the nerve to carry around a squirt gun so that I could nail people in the chests with a cold stream of water when they look at me with such pity…irritates the hell out of me. And being around a bunch of athletic and sensitive stage combatants, some of whom knew me in my dancing heyday, makes my irritation worse because I have to keep answering concerned questions about what is wrong with me.

So, I had escaped and went exploring the little town. In a very cool pottery shop named Follette’s (very dangerous place for me), I found one of the Sergio bracelets and took a chance on the idea that a copper bracelet might help my joints.

Sometime in late July, Meave looked at me under her brow, as she does when she is thinking, and said, “You don’t limp anymore, Mama.” Holy cow, she was right. I was walking like a normal person…and there was no pain. The rest of the joints in my body were also pain-free and I had more range of motion. I had not been without pain since my illness in 2000… could it be the bracelet?

I have been thoroughly enjoying this these past couple of months…I have actually walked Meave to the bus stop. Our little neighbor looked at me and asked how come I did not drive like I did all last year, and Meave said (loudly) that I could walk now. It’s been great…until day before yesterday. Twinges. And this morning, walking Maggie to the bus was very hard.

So, starting to evaluate myself…again. Since I was ill, I have been obsessed with understanding what happened to my body and what I was left with. Interesting that I have had these past few months be so easy physically…could it really have been the bracelet? And why is it ending?

Thinking I will start with core strengthening and stretching…I will detail my studies and progress here. More later.

Ignorant Dance Teachers

(Someone has been irked by this post, so she ANONYMOUSLY accused me of making MANY assumptions in this post and insinuated that I did not understand the difference between ID and ballet training… obviously not a regular reader of this blog. As I state at the beginning of the post below, I was sent off on this rant by a post on, but day after day I receive emails from parents and dancers asking for help, recounting their stories and their injuries. Up until now my dance kinesiology posts have been about the body as a way to encourage dancers and parents to take responsibility for their own body knowledge. I have been thinking that I should also say clearly that it should be the professional responsibility of every dance teacher, no matter the discipline, to understand the human body and how it moves. So, I say it now.)

Ok, can’t take it anymore…got up this morning, perused the web a bit to wake up, and unhappily came upon this:

“im 19 and have been dancing since i was 4. I have beautifully turned out feet but recently i have been getting serious pains in my knees and ankles. i went to an orthopedic who was shocked at how bad my leg alignment had become, presumably from ID. I was always told to ‘push my ankles forward’ in order to turn out my feet. Nothing was ever mentioned about my hips. I have never heard anything about using my hips. This might be the underlying cause to my problems. can anyone please shed some light on what i’m supposed to be doing with my hips when turning out my feet and trebling etc??? Any advice is welcome.”

PUSH FORWARD IN THE ANKLES TO TURN OUT!!??!! NEVER HEARD ABOUT USING HER HIPS!!??!! This teaching stupidity is stunning. Poor thing!

Why is any ignorant moron allowed to mess with young developing bodies just because they call themselves a “dance teacher”???!!!

I have always had a problem with bad teaching, regardless of the subject matter. I have walked out of many lectures, workshops, studio classes and university courses…I make no bones about ill-prepared lecturers, lazy presenters, and ignorant “teachers” of all kinds, no matter the guru they profess themselves to be. As a university professor, I probably shocked many a student when I would take their former teachers’ ignorant and dangerous ideas and teaching methods to task. What inflamed me more than anything were the “chronic injuries” that dancers owned as if they were badges of honor…these injuries were a sign of bad teaching, of damage done to them by ignorant teachers… they were not good things!!

Dance teachers work with the human body, therefore they should know how it is put together, how it works. They should know the bones and their articulations. They should know how each and every joint is constructed and how it is meant to move. They should understand the role of bony formations and ligaments in supporting and restricting movement in the joints. They should know the difference between ligaments and tendons and muscles, and they should know what bursae are for. They should know how muscles work by acting as the forces that move the levers that we call bones. They should know how muscles create movement by working with or against gravity. They should know the physics of jumping, turning, kicking, leaping, etc, etc, etc. They should understand correct skeletal alignment and effective and safe dance posture inside and out!

They should know how turn-out is accomplished if they want their students to use it. They should know how to strengthen a dancer’s legs and feet, and that it takes a few years of concentrated, specific training before a dancer should be put en pointe. They should understand how much stronger an Irish dancer’s feet really should be to perform toe stands in shoes that are not supportive or designed for such a maneuver. Irish dance teachers should understand the particular demands that the very specific Irish dance technique places on the body…the fact that dancers’ heels are not to contact the floor and that their knees are always to appear straight is very stressful on the legs. The fact that they are required to jump with out the benefit of the full use of the foot lever OR the arms requires unbelievable strength. They should understand the stretching that should be a MATTER OF COURSE for any dancer. If Irish dance teachers are going to continue to borrow movements from other dance techniques (ballet, in particular), then they themselves should be taking classes so THEY are trained to perform these steps. What has ID taken from ballet? Changement, entrechat quatre & six, cabriole, pique, pas de bourree, gargouillade…don’t know what these are? Then why are you trying to teach them to your students!!!!??

It should be a GIVEN that dance teachers understand the human body completely! Period.

There are bad teachers in every dance form. The mind set that the art of dance and the science of dance are mutually exclusive was quaint 75 years ago when the dance star of the day was no better than the average intermediate-advanced student of today. But as the athleticism of dance advances, so should our understanding of movement, of motion. The dance training needs to be more specific, more careful, more focused as we try to defy gravity in more and more complex and innovative ways because the HUMAN BODY DOES NOT CHANGE AS THE DANCE FORMS EVOLVE!!! Our bodies are put together the same way they were 50, 100, 1000, 10,000 years ago. This is not new news…so why is knowledge of the human body not a given?

If your dance teacher will not take responsibility for your body, then you take it. And find a new teacher. Good ones do exist.

Click for more kinesiology info: Dance Kinesiology
To start educating yourself, try here.

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