Your Best Body: A Deeper Hurt

The emotional trauma of injury can be the most painful part.

Point Magazine—October 2, 2012

The day after she tore her calf muscle, Lindsi Dec woke up in a state of denial: She thought her body was still healthy, and planned to go to rehearsal. Then her husband had to carry her to the bathroom. “Once I realized how bad it was, there was a lot of crying,” remembers Dec, a soloist at Pacific Northwest Ballet. “Never mind missing dancing—I missed walking.” The hardest part came once she finally acknowledged what had happened, and that she would be out for nine weeks.

For dancers, injuries are more than broken bones or torn tissue. They come with a deeper kind of loss, one of precious stage time, the momentum of a burgeoning career, even personal identity.

“Injured dancers may experience a form of grief,” says Elizabeth Manejías, MD, who works with dancers at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. She says mild depressive symptoms and anxiety are common.

When dancers can’t dance, they temporarily lose not only their career but also their lifestyle, their means of expression, their sense of purpose.

The danger of depression is twofold: In addition to the emotional drain, it can put the brakes on recovery. “Depression can hurt concentration, sleep and appetite, all of which are necessary to support the healing process,” says Manejías. A 2001 study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine found that patients with leg wounds who had depression were four times as likely to experience delayed recovery. “Also,” says Manejías, “there are studies to suggest that depression can heighten the experience of pain because similar areas in our nervous system process both feelings.”

Exploring a new passion while sidelined can be enormously beneficial. “I encourage dancers to focus on nurturing activities and exercise to give themselves the space to process any emotional turmoil,” says Manejías. Having another outlet helps keep dancers from getting obsessively wrapped up in their injury, and what they were—or weren’t—able to do in physical therapy that day.

Read the full story at pointmagazine.com.

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