Bone Health and Stress Fractures
Bone health is important to healthy dancing. Many dancers think of bone like a twig – either the twig is one piece, or it is snapped in half. However, bone is much more like a tree – it is constantly growing and remodeling. Bone is in a constant balance of being broken down and built back up. This is what makes bones healthy. However, sometimes the breakdown part of the bone “wins” over the buildup. This is when bone injuries can happen.
Dancers may have an accident where they fall and break something, but more often injured bones in dancers come slowly from overuse. This is when the bone breakdown overcomes the building blocks. When this happens the bone can have a stress fracture. This is a broken bone, but it’s from this breakdown/buildup imbalance rather than from a specific fall or accident.
There are ways to prevent this kind of bone injury and keep your bones healthy. The most common reason for a stress fracture is overuse. For example, if you have been taking one hour of pointe class a week and suddenly start dancing en pointe for six hours a week, your bone may not be ready to keep up with you. It is important to slowly work up to a time when you will be dancing more frequently. These times can be predictable, such as during an intensive, show week, or competition season. It is important for bone health to have a ramp-up period, or even decline some opportunities to keep your body and bones balanced.
Another risk for stress fractures is your body not having enough building blocks for the bone. Nutrition keeps your bones building, and this can be hard to sustain during busy seasons. It may be more difficult to keep these building blocks strong for dancers with specific dietary needs, such as vegetarian or vegan dancers. A visit to a nutritionist is a consideration to make sure you are keeping the right balance of energy going into your body, especially during times when you are using more energy for dance.
Supplements are generally best through diet and food. However, vitamin D may be low in dancers since many dancers stay indoors, even in Florida. Your doctor can check a vitamin D level, and this should be considered if you have had a stress fracture. It is important to not take too much vitamin D supplements without a blood test because, while hard to do, it is possible to overdose on vitamin D supplements.
One measure of bone health is also hormonal health. In women, one hormonal measure is through menstrual periods. If you have had your period, and it changes and becomes less frequent, this may indicate your body does not have enough building blocks. Nutrition and hormonal health affect many areas of the body, including your bone health. Thus, if you experience these changes in your period, you need to let your doctor know.
Stress fractures take time to get better and they will almost always cause you to miss some dance. There are some dance injuries you can dance through, but stress fractures are not generally one of them. Therefore, it is extremely important to prevent these and to diagnose them early. You can catch these early and vastly lessen the amount of time out of dance. Bone healthy is key to dancing longer, safer, healthier.