Joyful Dance Laura Stanyer

Joyful Dance Laura Stanyer

Friday, 22 July 2011

The Importance of Massage for Dancers

Dance can be an extremely physically demanding activity; training, rehearsals, and performances are physically intensive. Also all our daily activities put our body through stresses; sitting for long periods, driving or working on computer creates tension in the body and physical activities such as running or going to the gym can be physically demanding. Every day life stresses, emotions mental stress all affect our physical self.

The demand for sports massage and other massage therapies are increasing and becoming more recognised as a skill that enhances our overall well being. Due to intensive training, hectic schedules and stresses of every day life we are more prone to overworking our bodies and may suffer from muscle imbalances and overuse injuries.  Physical tension in our body can have a negative affect on our mental and emotional well being so releasing excessive tension can enhance our mental health and promote relaxation and a sense of calm.

Overuse Injuries in Dance

Overuse injuries occur because muscles are worked hard during training, rehearsal or performance and are not rested fully.  In the next class, rehearsal or performance the muscles are not fully recovered from the last session. It is as important to have a high quality recovery practice to maintain wellbeing and enhance your true potential. Overuse is the most common cause of muscular imbalances and injury in dance. If these are not noticed early on they can impair performance or worse can lead to chronic injures. See the dance Injuries article for more information.

Recovery From Physical Activity

Instinctively the body heals itself it performs the recovery process through circulation of the blood flushing out waste products that build up in the muscles during intense physical activity. It provides nutrients and repairs any tissue damage however this process takes time and a rest period is necessary. Dancers’ schedule often makes this required rest period very difficult to achieve. Massage is a safe and effective method of speeding up the recovery process.


Benefits of Massage for Dancers:

  • Massage aids and speed up the body’s natural recovery process
  • Massage helps prevent injury
  • Massage enhances performance by releasing muscular tension
  • Massage aid the healing process with minor soft tissue injuries
Massage can be an integral element to a dancers training or work schedule. If the dancer of company can budget for it, massage sessions by a qualified therapist can be programmed into training, rehearsal and performance schedule. However understanding time and money restraints dancers’ face I suggest learning and practicing simple self massage techniques as this can benefit dancers greatly.

Why Self-Massage for Dancers

Massage is extremely effective for releasing muscle tension and restoring balance to the musculoskeletal system. Regular massage may help prevent injuries as a constant build-up of tension in the muscles from regular activity may lead to stresses on joints, ligaments, tendons, as well as the muscles themselves. Self massage improves they way you feel and enhances your performance, simple self massage techniques can help aid recovery and release muscular tension.

It is important to learn simple massage skills to be able to incorporate massage into your training and is helpful to have a basic understanding of anatomy and physiology, especially the muscular and skeletal systems. By understanding these systems and the effects of exercise you can also appreciate how massage benefits you. It becomes an integral part of your dance training and can ultimately enhance your performance. The wonderful aspect about self massage is it is instinctive and easy to learn as you are learning about your own body’s needs.

When Not To Massage

There are times when massage could be detrimental rather than beneficial to you.

The basic contraindications to massage are:

  • Feeling unwell or body temperature over 100°F
  • Injury, wounds, recent bruising, muscle tears or sprains
  • Bacterial infection or other infections
  • If you react adversely to massage treatment
  • If your suffer any symptoms seek advice from a doctor
Self massage can be practiced anytime, anywhere, but its advisable not to when you have just eaten a heavy meal or when you are hungry or very tired.  Allow at least an hour after eating.

Massage Techniques

There are many massage techniques but generally they are applied with the main pressure being directed towards the heart. This ensures that no undue pressure of blood being pushed against closed valves causes any damage to them. Exceptions to this rule, for example, compression is where pressure is applied directly downwards for a short time therefore no risk of the build up of pressure or damage to blood vessels.

Massage Techniques include:

  • Strokes
  • Brushing
  • Compression
  • Squeezing
  • Stretching
  • Shaking


Self Massage Tips

  • The basic movements comprise stroking and brushing with gentle pressure
  • Use a wide surface area of the palm of the hand and fingers
  • Hold the muscle being massaged in a relaxed and shortened position
  • Squeeze the muscle and stroke up the limb e.g. leg. Always apply pressure with stokes towards the heart
  • On the return, you maintain, light contact and avoid the path taken on the upward stroke
  • Your hands are relaxed and softly moulded around the natural contours of your body
  • Perform passive stretches to the muscle groups after you have massaged them
  • Note if you feel acute pain, if so STOP and seek medical advice

Benefits of Self Massage:

Research shows massage provides several important health benefits, including:
  • warms muscle tissue, increases blood flow to muscles
  • increases blood flow & improves blood circulation
  • improve flexibility & increases range of motion
  • stimulates peripheral nerves
  • relieves muscle soreness
  • aids and speed up the body’s natural recovery process
  • enhances performance by releasing muscular tension
  • aid the healing process with minor soft tissue injuries
  • boost immunity by stimulating the production of white blood cells
  • helps you relax and improve your mental energy helps alleviate stress
  • increases endorphin levels (the feel good chemicals in your body)

    These benefits are accumulative so as you continue to practice the art of self massage regularly the more you will enhance your well being.
As a dancer you can enhance your dance ability, boost your health and vitality, reduce muscle soreness, prevent the risk of injury and increase your dance performance through a regular practice of self massage.

Self Massage Videos by Laura Stanyer

These self massage videos below are designed for you to easily learn them as you follow along.  They are designed to unwind after a long day or after intense physical activity to release excessive tension and reduce stress.  Uses this self-massage at the end of a long day or after a physical activity like intense dance class or a run as a part of you cool down sequence.

When to self massage
These sequences are designed to release excessive tension after physical activity of after along day it’s advisable not to massage when you have just eaten a heavy meal or when you are hungry or very tired.  Allow at least an hour after eating.

What to wear
These sequences are designed through the clothing; make sure you are wearing loose comfortable clothing that doesn’t cause any restrictions to your movement or breathing. Avoid tight clothing like jeans as you must be comfortable.

Make sure you are comfortable
It is best if you are comfortable and relaxed, sit in a comfortable supportive chair or work on the floor on a mat in a comfortable position.  Have supportive cushions for your back or behind your knees if you need to and make sure you are in a warm and well-ventilated room.  It is important to be comfortable and maintain a neutral upright posture not to put excessive stress on you body.

Apply gentle pressure
Always start with light pressure in order to gently warm up and gauge sensitivity and your body’s reaction to touch.  Never put pressure directly through the joints such as the vertebrae in your neck.  Apply light pressure using the pads of your finger tips and the surface area of your hands; fingers, palms and heels of the hand.

Focus on natural breathing
It is important to maintain relaxed, gentle breathing throughout and you can visualize your muscles relaxing and energy flowing through the area to enhance your well being.

How often to self massage
It is possible to receive the benefits if you only participate in self massage a few times a week. These self massage sequences can also be performed each day as regular practice enhances your overall well being.

Like any physical skill, self massage is a practice that can be cultivated over a lifetime and it is a great skill that enhances your overall well being.  Do not become impatient or easily discouraged.  Make a long-term commitment to your self massage practice and over time you will positively discover the benefits.

Self Massage for the Head, Neck and Shoulders

Self Massage for the Leg

Self Massage for the Foot

Disclaimer: The information contained on this web page is intended as general guidance and information only. Laura Stanyer and its authors accept no liability for any loss, injury or damage however incurred as a consequence, whether directly or indirectly, of the use this information. All advice on this web page should only be used under the supervision of a qualified dance / fitness / healthcare professional.


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