Almost every young ballet dancer’s dream is to finally be ready to start training and performing on pointe. Now making that decision as to whether or not a dancer is ready is certainly a complex one. Now respecting that different elements also need to be considered (Age, Bony development, Maturity, Years of ballet training, Current training schedule, Strength and Alignment), this blog however, will just be touching on the importance of core stability and motor control from a clinical perspective.
Ballet technique is extremely multi-dimensional, but quite often important aspects can get neglected. One being the acquisition of adequate control of the trunk, abdominal and pelvic muscles. Simply put, repetitive practice of the ballet syllabus is often not enough if the dancer has maladaptive strategies put in place to compensate for areas of weakness and dysfunction.
Dancers must be able to “move well”, and this is where looking at muscle recruitment and motor patterning becomes of relevance. For example, within the trunk, the deep stabilising muscles of the spine, such as multifidus, can become inhibited, whether it be due to pain, injury etc. Thus, the dancer will begin to recruit superficial / larger muscles (I.e. Erector spinae) to compensate for this, basically steal stability. Initially, no problem may be witnessed, but long term overuse of these muscles results in “fatigue”, as they are not designed for low load endurance, and one may experience a feeling of “tightness” or a “dulled ache”. Furthermore, it can also perpetuate the formation of myofascial trigger points (knots) which can then have a negative effect on flexibility and the presence of neural tension (Impeded neural tissue resulting in pain and the restriction of a moving nerve).
So what can we do about it? Basically, you need to “Retrain the brain”. Passively speaking manual therapy techniques such as soft tissue massage or dry needling aid in making the brain interested in muscle under-activity, but to then maintain this interest we need to commence isolated muscle activation exercises. From there, we can increase the complexity, add load and overall challenge the stability system. Static exercises are usually the starting point followed by the addition of a dynamic component. From there we continue to build and make exercises more ballet specific. For example, the dancer needs to be able to disassociate the trunk and maintain stiffness, whilst performing a dynamic movement with the leg, such as a Développé or Grande battement.
Now if you feel that your core training could be improved or you are a ballet instructor preparing young dancers for pointe, then a pre-pointe assessment with one of our physiotherapists here at SWSM could certainly be of benefit. If you have any further questions please contact Stephanie Zamoyski on 02 9851 5959 or enquire through email, firstname.lastname@example.org.