Hey pole friends! Welcome to our latest blog on possibly one of our favourite topics: (*drumroll…..) injuries!
Understanding injuries has been a common theme through many of our blogs to date, so we’re thrilled to finally be sharing with you our overarching knowledge on this topic. Seems strange that it’s taken this long for us to write about this considering it’s a big component of our job day in/day out, but yes, we’re now finally here to explore it with you!
We hate to break the bad news, but every pole dancer will experience an injury at some point. Heck, you’ll be lucky if you only experience just the one! But all injuries, no matter how big or small, have one thing in common – they suck. Yup! Getting injured isn’t fun. It can be downright frustrating and even depressing. So it makes sense talk about it and figure out what actually is the cause of our injuries and why do they keep on occurring….!
So if you’ve found yourself asking ‘why do I keep getting injured?’ Then buckle up because you’re in for an educational ride! Let’s do this!
Far too often in the pole world I hear ‘poor technique’ or a particular grip (*cough cough twisted grip) being bandied about the pole world and cast as the sole blame for an injury. But in reality, this simply isn’t the case.
I mean yes, technique may be one of the factors that has contributed to an injury. But there’s far more to this than is currently understood.
Simply put, there are no bad pole tricks, movements or positions out there, just movements that may:
Be less efficient for your muscles or joints to operate at
Require greater capacity to achieve than what you’re able to produce
And both of these important factors, in turn, can (key word being can!) lead to injury. Let’s break this down a bit more.
So you know how when we start out learning our straddle and everyone wants to naturally round their spine? Well spoiler alert, there’s actually nothing wrong with this position if you have the strength to control it! BUT… if your back muscles don’t have the strength and capacity then the upper back is put under a lot more load than it can control. This then passively loads up the joints and soft tissue structures, which in turn can (there’s that word again) lead to injury!
But guess what? Having perfect form doesn’t necessarily stop that injury from happening either. You can still get the same injury with a ‘straight’ back straddle! And many who ‘round’ their spine in their straddle will never get injured! It’s just more likely to occur in a rounded straddle if you don’t have the strength to control that position. It’s a lot to get your head around right?!
So how do we know when technique is playing a role in contributing to an injury? To be certain we suggest consulting with a health care professional who works in this area, as well as ruling out all the other potential causes (points 2-9)!
In our experience, and particularly over the past 2 years, technique alone has seldom been to blame for the injuries we treat on a daily basis. Most injuries are related to the other listed causes below.
And spoiler alert… an important key to reduce your risk of injury is improving your capacity (aka strength and tolerance) through your whole range of motion.
Did you know that strength training has been shown to reduce the risk of injury by up to 50%! Yes! By that much. But most exciting is it’s performance enhancing. Aka you’ll become better at your apparatus with tailored strengthening!
So just remember – there are no bad positions or movements when it comes to pole. Only positions your body isn’t prepared for!
Ok ok.. we’re going to call a quick time out! We’re only 1 of the risk factors in out of 9 and we already need to side track to explain one of, if not the most important theories when discussing injuries:
Load vs Capacity
What is load and capacity? Load is the stress you’re being placed under and capacity is the amount of load you can actually tolerate. And most injuries occur because the load you’re placing on your body is greater than the capacity your body is able to produce.
Our body’s capacity is determined by several factors, both internal and external.
So rather than solely focus on addressing the technique of an individual, we should aim to improve poler’s overall capacity to meet the demands they are placing on their body.
Let’s explain this concept further with a few helpful pictures. In this graph you can see the pole dancers load is far less than the required demands (aka capacity) of what they are aiming to perform. This significantly increases their risk of injury. If the graph was flipped however, we’d be less concerned.
Here’s another way to picture it. So our poler has already built up their capacity for an invert, ballerina and spin. But they want to also do a butterfly, Jamilla and shoulder mount, except these all exceed their current load capabilities. To address this, we optimise load to gradually increase the polers’ ability to perform these movements without risking the injury.
Wondering how do we ‘optimise load’?
Optimal load is the amount of load that will induce and maximise a positive adaptation. Ie your capacity vs loads/activities that exceed your capacity. Optimal loading is fundamental in order to increase our capacity to tolerate greater loads and become more resilient (physically and mentally).
Optimising load consists of gradual increasing the frequency and intensity of the activities in your tolerable zone, to push its boundaries and expand it. But if the load is increased too much too quickly, then it might cause you pain/injury. And vice versa. If the load applied is too little, your load capacity will shrink.
Most importantly, optimising load plays a key role in reducing our risk of injury. By expanding our circle (load tolerance), at the right rate we’re suddenly able to perform more movements without the same risk of injury!
Now that we’ve got that under our belts, let’s head back to the other prime causes of injury….
Who here reading this is guilty of overtraining?
We've all done this before I'm sure. We're desperate to get a trick so we keep on attempting it. Or we've got the pole bug so suddenly find ourselves doing 7 classes a week instead of our usual 4. Well unfortunately the bad news is that this probably will catch up with you.
Our bodies don't like sudden changes in load. That statement applies to underloading them and overloading them. But let's talk overload.
Quite simply, the longer we expose our body to load, the more likely it is to get injured. And the injuries will usually be specific to area of stress – i.e upper back for straddles, shoulder for spins, hamstrings for splits etc.
Overload can sneak up on us and happen in many different ways. It can be the number of repetitions you do of a certain trick, how long you spend training or even the number of pole sessions you do per week.
This is one of the reasons why we at The Pole Physio genuinely favour pole sessions lasting < 60 minutes at a time when training trick work or intense floor work. And for beginners no more than 3 hours per week and 4-6 hours for the more advanced poler. Just remember, the more fatigued we are the, the higher the risk of injury.
3. Sudden changes or spikes in our training load
If you’ve been off pole for a while and decide to suddenly go back to training 5 times a week, you better believe your body is not going to handle that sudden load change and you will get injured.
With all forms of exercise, we want to aim for progressive overload and adaptation over time. Whilst it would be amazing to do all the tricks you were previously doing within the first week of returning, this is simply just not realistic and is setting you up for failure mentally and physically.
Instead, we encourage you to return to pole at a much lower level than what you previously were at and gradually build back up your load over time. You will get there eventually! We just want you to get there in one piece and without long term injuries!
4. Injury history
Unfortunately, it’s been shown time and time again to be one of the greatest risk factors of injury is a past history of the exact same injury. This is thought to be because there is likely a pre-existing weakness or biomechanical weakness predisposing. Unfortunately this is also one of the risk factors we are unable to control. Whilst we can reduce our risk of future injuries occurring, we can’t change what has already happened so we need to accept it and work hard to improve our capacity.