Did you see my social media post from a few days ago? I finally got the green light from my physical therapist to dance full out in my lesson. No more marking or holding back! I was excited, relieved, and a little nervous. I was tired of having to hold back. I just wanted to dance! But what if my knees didn’t do well? What if I regressed right back to the pain I was experiencing before starting PT?
Interestingly, I did feel like I took a step back this week, but not because of dancing. Quite the opposite.
My dance lesson was on Wednesday evening. My knees had been a little sore all day, but I was looking forward to actually dancing too much to worry. We worked on Waltz, as it had been awhile since we touched that dance. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had not lost as much flexibility as I thought I had when we got to the part of the routine with the first leg lift.
By the end of the lesson, I was on a total dancer’s high. My knees hurt but not that bad. A few weeks ago, I would have been hobbling out of the studio after dancing that much. But I wasn’t! It was a beautiful reminder of what I had been missing. While I was still enjoying my lessons even when I had to just mark or go easy, there was so much more that I wasn’t getting to experience. Being able to dance like I was before without the painful consequences was also motivating. Now more than ever, I wanted to make sure I was prepared to compete in July.
Only two days later, I was reminded that I wasn’t “cured” and needed to continue taking things one step at a time. Thursday, the day after my lesson, my knees felt fine. A little sore but nothing unexpected. Friday was another story. I couldn’t understand why, but my knees hurt like the dickens that morning. I felt like I couldn’t get any work done at the office because I wasn’t comfortable sitting and I wasn’t comfortable standing. I went for a couple walks as advised by my PT, but even those I had to make slow and short because my knees were so stiff and achy.
I had a PT appointment on Friday evening, and “what gives?” was the essence of the first words out of my mouth. I wondered if this was like when you do a hard workout and your muscles are more sore the second day after compared to the first day. Did I aggravate my knees during Wednesday’s lesson and this was a delayed reaction?
My PT was on vacation, and I was seeing a sub in the meantime. While she hadn’t been working with me up until that point, she didn’t think it was my dancing that triggered my knees. She asked what I had done on Thursday. Nothing active, I told her. I had the day job, I had a meeting with the director of Rx Ballroom Dance, and then I was on my computer for the rest of the night. I was basically sitting all day.
That’s what did it, she said.
Friday wasn’t the first time I’d heard this. My main PT had said the same thing when I came to an appointment exasperated over my knees hurting again. The pain would increase the day after a day of being sedentary. Not moving was aggravating my knees more than dancing full out. She also pointed out that the bent position of the knee while I’m sitting is actually stressful for the joint, particularly the knee cap.
There’s been a lot of research in recent decades about the health effects of sitting at a desk all day. Studies have linked sitting all day to increased risk of obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and plain ‘ol death, among other things. Add increased recovery time for knee injuries to the list.
Of course, spending all day dancing probably wouldn’t be great for my knees either. What’s interesting and important to note is “taking it easy” applies to both physical activity and rest. My PT has advised me to make sure I’m not sitting too long at work, but also not standing too long. I need to get up regularly and go for a walk, but not a super long walk.
Sometimes when people get injured, they develop a fear or anxiety about pushing themselves physically again. I know I felt a twinge of it as the thought that I’d never be able to dance without pain again bounced around in my head. Some lessons, I felt nervous about doing more than walking through my routines because I was afraid of causing more damage. The instinct to avoid damage is to stop or do less. Ironically, stopping is proving to be just as, if not more, harmful to my recovery.
Moderation is key. With so much of my life being spent sitting in front of a computer, I have to be extra conscious about taking regular breaks to move my body (like now while I write this blog post). I take this as a really good sign though. My body wants me to move! I don’t need to worry about my body failing to support me and my passion for dance. We’re on the same page.
On that note, I’m going to end here so I can do my PT exercises before I hit the sack. I’m looking forward to my next dance lesson.
Have a great week, dancers!