As the temperatures drop and sweater weather begins, most of us groan at the thought of chilly muscles and achy bones. Dancers know that a cold winter can make our bodies feel "off." Dance Magazine tapped Dr. Thomas Sanders, a board-certified foot and ankle specialist at The Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics, to find out how to deal with the most common health issues dancers face in frigid temps.
According to Sanders, one of the biggest problems during the winter is decreased sunlight exposure, which can lead to a lack of necessary nutrients like vitamin D and calcium. This is especially true for those of us who live in northern climates. According to the National Institutes of Health, bone pain and muscle weakness can indicate inadequate vitamin D levels in adults, but such symptoms can be subtle and go undetected in the initial stages.
"Our bodies depend on vitamin D and calcium for bone health, so dancers and athletes can be at an increased risk of injuries, like stress fractures, as a result," says Sanders. He recommends taking both vitamin D and calcium supplements, specifically after daylight savings time starts. Ask your doctor what brand they recommend and never take more than the serving size listed on the bottle.
Intense Performance Schedule
Whether it's Nutcracker season, holiday galas or winter showcases, this time of year can leave dancers with packed schedules.
The most important thing you can do is listen to your body and give it time to rest. But keep up with your regular cross-training routine when you have the energy (and time). Sanders recommends low-intensity cardio, like the stationary bike. "When you get tired, your form breaks down and that's when injuries are more likely," he says. "Maintaining a regular fitness schedule allows you to stay in top shape and peaks endurance."
Be sure to keep your body, specifically your feet and ankles, warm and rested between performances. Cold skin leads to decreased blood flow in the exposed areas, which can lead to muscle strains and injuries, Sanders says.
To counteract this, he recommends spending more time than usual warming up and stretching before dancing, specifically the Achilles tendons, feet and calves. Practicing a low-intensity cardio warm up to start your day can also help.
While outside, always wear closed shoes and consider investing in waterproof winter boots and wool socks to keep your feet protected. Sanders also recommends wearing tights and compression socks, which will help direct blood flow to your feet and keep them warm.