When Richmond Ballet dancer Cecile Tuzii was a student, she repeatedly injured the same ankle and couldn’t find a solution. A friend suggested she see a chiropractor, who discovered that her lower back and sacrum were misaligned, putting stress on her ankle joints. After regular treatments, she finally found relief. Now, she regularly sees a chiropractor to maintain her body and identify causes of inflammation. “I probably owe my long career to chiropractic, because it’s taken care of me and prevented injury,” says Tuzii. “I prefer going to the chiropractor over taking pills.”
Dancers often favor holistic treatments to prevent and heal injuries. Chiropractic is a drug-free, hands-on option that could potentially help avoid more drastic measures, like surgery. While some medical professionals question its effectiveness (the practice was invented in the late 1800s by magnetic, metaphysical healer Daniel David Palmer), many dancers find it helps correct their alignment issues and identifies sources of pain.
Chiropractors are specialists in how the bones and muscles connect and relate to each other. The goal is to balance the body’s alignment, evening out the weight put on joints. Much of this is done to resolve small issues before they become a bigger problem. “When a dancer comes in, they may have pain on the outside of their left knee,” says chiropractor Joshua Cohen, who works with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre dancers. But the discomfort, for instance, may be coming from a strained muscle in the hip. “Just because the knee is where they feel the pain, it doesn’t mean that’s where it’s coming from,” he adds.
Chiropractors will perform a series of manual adjustments to increase range of motion and release the affected muscles and joints. Most will use multiple methods of care within the same visit. Diversified Technique is one of the more common adjustment methods. During treatment, the chiropractor applies sudden pressure to the joints to help restore proper movement and alignment. (Sometimes, this manipulation releases gasses in the joint, creating the cracking often associated with the practice.) Other methods include Thompson Technique, which uses a special table that increases the force of the adjustments to a specific area, and Directional Non-Force Technique, in which the practitioner applies a softer touch that does not cause joints to crack.
Cohen practices Nimmo, or trigger point therapy, which can help treat injuries like tendinitis, arthritis and strained, sprained or pulled muscles. “Trigger points are localized areas of muscle spasm. When a muscle gets overused, it gets tighter and tighter until it tears on a microscopic level,” he says. By applying pressure to these points, blood flow is temporarily stopped, and when he releases pressure, Cohen says, “It allows fresh blood to rush in and wash away a lot of the inflammation.”
A Controversial Craft
Critics of chiropractic argue that the method is not a solution for injury. “Chiropractic is a temporary fix. Nothing is permanent,” says Cohen. Overuse injuries like arthritis can’t be cured, but a chiropractor may help manage them. Jennifer Green, a physical therapist at PhysioArts in New York City, is most concerned that dancers regularly seeing any kind of practitioner are trying to find a quick fix for their pain, instead of looking for the root of their problem, which is often tied to their technique. She concedes that chiropractic care may help some dancers. “Preventive care would likely include manual treatments, but also active treatments such as strengthening, stretching, technique modification, etc.,” she says. “Some respond better to massage, some to PT, some to chiropractic and some to acupuncture.” Ultimately, the dancer is the best judge. For Tuzii, working with a chiropractor helped her realize how her body parts worked together to achieve proper alignment. “I learned much more about my body,” she says. “It taught me that my work at the barre and in the center had to change.” DT
Kathleen McGuire is a former dancer. She also writes for Dance Magazine and Pointe.
Know Before You Go
|Finding a doctor: Chiropractor Joshua Cohen says, to find a trusted practitioner, ask peers or your regular doctor for a referral and look at patient reviews online. To find someone in your area, he suggests chirodirectory.com.
|Cost: Most major insurance carriers cover at least a portion of the fee. If uninsured, treatment often costs $50–$150 per visit.
|Scheduling: Chiropractic treatment usually takes 15–20 minutes. With active patients like dancers, Cohen suggests going once or twice every week. Tuzii visits hers about once a month on her day off from dance. Chiropractic care is often an ongoing process requiring regular appointments.
|What to wear: Cohen suggests wearing loose-fitting, thin clothing, so your chiropractor can feel the muscles.
Photos from top: ©iStockphoto.com; photo by Sarah Ferguson, courtesy of Richmond Ballet