With the stressors of the pandemic still lingering more than one year later, self-care is, rightfully, a priority for everyone right now. But dancers have always known the importance of keeping their bodies and minds as healthy as possible. After all, your body is your instrument, and as we make our long-awaited returns to the studio and stage, finding self-care strategies that work for you will be crucial to getting back up to speed—mentally and physically—with your rigorous performing and training schedule.
Dancers have a myriad of options to choose from when it comes to treating minor ailments like soreness, swelling and bruising. One that's quickly gaining popularity are topical pain relievers, which provide targeted, temporary relief of minor pain. These days, there's more than just your tried-and-true Tiger Balm on the shelves. From CBD lotions to warming gels and patches, finding the product that's right for you can be as difficult as finding the perfect Rockette-red shade of lipstick…but even more beneficial to your dance career.
Read on for our breakdown of some of the most common ingredients to look out for in the topical pain relief aisle.
CBD topicals are often used to aid chronic pain but have become increasingly popular to treat minor aches and pains. In addition to hemp-based CBD for targeted pain relief, Receptra Naturals Serious Relief + Arnica CBD* also includes jojoba oil to moisturize irritated skin (goodbye, blisters), as well as arnica, a traditional remedy for bruising and swelling that your ballet teacher has probably already recommended you try after a particularly taxing rehearsal. To use, simply rub the cream onto the affected muscles or joints.
Courtesy Receptra Naturals
You're probably familiar with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications like Advil and Aleve, but the active ingredients in these medications are also available in topical form. Dr. Steven Karageanes, DO, FAOASM, a primary care sports medicine specialist who's spent years working with dancers, recommends the brand Voltaren as "a true anti-inflammatory in gel form, with data to support its use." One caveat, though: Voltaren is not approved for use by those under 18.
According to Dr. Selina Shah, MD, FACP, a sports medicine and dance medicine specialist in Walnut Creek, CA, "Capsaicin is the compound in chili peppers that gives them their spice and heat. When applied topically, it causes a burning sensation and essentially 'tricks' the body's nerve endings to not feel pain." Capsaicin is available in both cream form and in extended-release patches.
Arnica is a natural herb with anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Found in the same family as the sunflower, the arnica plant has been used for centuries as a natural remedy, and is mainly used to treat bruising and sprains. Though Dr. Shah agreed that its pain-relief potential, plus minimal risk of negative side effects, makes this ingredient worth a try, she reminds dancers to be savvy about their product choices. "While I haven't heard of anyone having any trouble with arnica topically, it's not FDA regulated, so it's difficult to know whether you're getting the exact ingredients that a product label may claim."
You've got menthol to thank for the cooling sensation behind products like Tiger Balm, Icy Hot and Biofreeze. The popular ingredient technically acts as a counterirritant, distracting your body from any sensation of pain.
When the Pain Isn't Just Temporary...
As long as you use them as directed, topical pain relievers can come in clutch when you need to push through that final rehearsal or class. But if your aches and pains last longer than a few days, it's probably time to seek other treatment. "You don't want to overdo it on topical pain relievers, because they could be masking a larger issue. It's best to get checked out by a medical professional," Dr. Shah says.
*Dance Magazine has an affiliate relationship with Receptra Naturals, and may earn a commission from products purchased through our links.