Back pain. It sucks.
I’ve met a lot of dancers over the years who need to take a day between dance events because their back is so sore. I’ve met people who sleep on floors, get massages, and pop pills to try to prevent the pain. I’ve also met people who have quit dancing because of the level of pain they feel after dancing.
Now, there are several reasons why you may have back pain after you dance. I’m definitely not an expert in any of them. But, I have found that many people suffer from one of the two issues that caused me back pain in dance for a long time:
Issue 1: Sticking your butt out.
As described on Somastruct, this can be caused by tight back muscles, tight hip flexors, weak abs, or weak legs. (You’re better off visiting the link above for a full understanding. They also have some great exercises you can do!) The technical name seems to be an ‘Anterior Pelvic Tilt’. It can happen to anyone. Usually, it’s associated with long hours sitting at a desk, which cause the tendons and muscles to shorten/tighten.
Personally, I think there are some things in dance that are sometimes also the culprits:
- Dancing in heels (it changes your posture by nature of dancing on tiny little twigs)
- Trying to look sexy (aka sticking the butt out on purpose)
- Trying to get stretch/extension in a dance by taking the hips back
- Trying to keep a turnout, but compensating with the hips
- Conflating maintaining upright posture with a back arch (not the same thing!!)
Honestly, there’s a thousand better ways to look sexy than trying to stick out the butt – especially when it compromises your health. Since correcting my own issues with this, I don’t develop pain from dancing in heels or flats in the lower back (my feet still ache from heels, though!)
If you think you suffer from this kind of pain, your best bet is to see a chiropractor or professional of some sort. However, if you want, there’s a possibility that you can use online resources or work on correcting your posture to help fix the problem.
This is what worked for me:
- Imagining that my back has to be flat against a wall, with the butt tucked under
- The ‘stacking blocks’ method: imagine each body part from your feet to your head is a block you are stacking on top of each other. Your pelvis should sit in the same line as the rest of your body
- The ‘pull up’ method: imagine there is a string coming out of the top of your head, lifting everything to feel ‘suspended’
- Imagining keeping your butt tucked when you dance (sometimes, I found it helpful to think of dancing ‘pelvis forward in WCS and Zouk specifically, and bringing the hips forward instead of back in Salsa).
Issue 2: Not Staying Over the Center in Back Bends
I’m not naturally gifted when it comes to back flexibility. I used to do a lot of compensation by trying to lean back, rather than compensating by bending my knees.
At any point during a back bend, your weight should be over the balls of your feet – even if the lead is supporting you. The bend should be supported through the core and bringing the weight forward. If you bring your weight backwards past your heels, you put a lot of pressure on the lower spine (even though this may seem counter-intuitive). This can both cause damage and a lot of pain.
Once again, I am not an expert, but what worked for me was this:
- I never go further than I feel comfortable with a partner, especially if I’m supporting all my own weight
- I concentrate on keeping my weight and hips over the balls of my feet
- I concentrate on feeling my chest go up rather than my back bending. Then, I look backwards with my chest.
Funnily enough, my back bends improved a lot when I couldn’t use my hips too well because of an SI joint problem. I learned how to control and isolate my upper body much better because of the forced isolation from the lower body. So, maybe imagining you can’t compensate with the lower back or hips will work for you.
If you have unexplained back pain after you dance and think it’s just working the muscles, this may be something to ask your instructor, chiropractor, or yoga friend about. It could save you lots of pain and lots of future, permanent damage. Who knows? Maybe it’ll also improve your dance technique!!