A dancer standing on tip of her right toes.

What is Being Sore and What Can You Do About It?

You are constantly using – and probably often overworking – your body. Almost every class or rehearsal has you using it in a new way or pushing yourself especially hard when moves focus on one particular body area: pliés, for example. After one of these sessions, you may say “I’m sore!”

The Meaning of “Sore”

Being sore comes from minute tears in muscle fiber’s contractile units. Overcoming soreness most effectively takes both physical and mental remedies.

Whatever the physiological explanation is for soreness, you just know that you’re stiff and achy deep in the muscles that you’ve overused – and you want to feel better.

The Levels of Soreness

There are levels of soreness: light, moderate and severe. Usually your soreness will show up about 24-48 hours after the “overuse.”

If you have light soreness, just dance as usual spending a little extra time to warm up.

If you have moderate soreness, use some dynamic stretches and avoid extreme movements.

If you have severe soreness, you may find warming up and doing even conservative movements uncomfortable. In this case, it might be best to ice your muscles and take the day off. And while taking the day off is something you wouldn’t ever think you’d consider – it is probably the best remedy for severely sore muscles. Don’t even stretch with foam rollers if you’re experiencing severe soreness.

Remedies for Body and Mind

Your body needs to heal from soreness and so does your mind. There are very simple ways to do this that have tremendous benefits to your healing process.

Good General Physical Treatment

Relax in warmth. You’ll feel better at any level of soreness if you soak in a warm tub with Epsom salts. Don’t use bubble or foam. If you don’t have Epsom salts substitute witch hazel or oatmeal. By the way, if you want to try the oatmeal bath, let a cup or two of quick cooking oatmeal sit in your water for 5-10 minutes before you get in. Notice we said “warm” bath – not “hot.” Warm water will help you relax better than hot because it is soothing and doesn’t shock your muscles. Stay in the bath for at least 20 minutes but not more than 30.

Cool down. We don’t mean to pour ice water over your body, but patting yourself down with witch hazel is a treat for your body.  You can substitute aloe vera gel but it does result in a sticky feeling.

Good Mental Treatment

After you’ve treated your body to relaxing treatments, do your mind the same favor. You need to unwind. Herbal tea and a quiet spot with soft music are the perfect setting but you may not always be able to do that. Try a good pair of headphones. Clear your mind so that you can see yourself relaxing every muscle in your body. Mentally winding down helps to ease the physical pain and it can help you sleep better. And sleep is nature’s secret weapon for healing. Sleep is exactly what your mind and your body need to replenish, revive and refresh for your next day of dancing.

Can You Ward Off Soreness?

If you’re the typical dancer – working hard on new movements, pushing your body to leap higher, spin faster and glissade more smoothly, soreness is going to be a part of your life. But there are ways to help your body out.

Sleep is nature’s secret weapon for healing. Sleep is exactly what your mind and your body need to replenish, revive and refresh for your next day of dancing. That’s why the mental treatment of relaxation is so important when a day has been especially strenuous.

Hydration is another weapon you can use to give your body what it needs to heal. Eight 8 ounce glasses is the recommended amount of daily water intake. This recommendation is for the typical person’s body – not for the often overworked body of a dancer. A dancer should add 2-3 extra glasses to this amount. Why? Well, not being hydrated is more than just your body “drying out” through sweating. The loss of fluid in your body takes a lot of stuff with it when it goes. Mineral (such as potassium and sodium) are lost along with nutrients your body needs to bend and stretch – and to withstand impact. You may even choose to enhance your water intake by making about 25% of it vitamin water. Just be careful if you do this because lots of vitamin water is high in calories and the low-cal versions have artificial sweeteners (which you never want to intake).

Can Being Sore Be Dangerous?

Usually soreness results in nothing that is permanent or dangerous. But pay attention to your body. If soreness is persistent and is still aggravated after 48 hours, you should be concerned and seek help from your doctor.

Treating Soreness with Ointments

Learn about these options before you need them so you won’t have to do research and shop at the moment you need relief and you can keep your favorite choice in your dance bag!

General Liniment Salves

Liniment salves are meant to soothe soreness in the superficial musculoskeletal tissues. The “usual” liniment salve is a heating salve. Some feel warm when absorbed and remain warm. (Tiger Balm). Others (Icy Hot) rub in warm and then begin to feel cool. Flexall is a maximum strength warming rub. All three of these contain mental which has both a warming and pain-relieving effect on soft tissues.

Herbal Products

Some people prefer plant-based treatments over those that are produced in an industrial environment. These treatments usually can be found in health food stores. Peppermint and wintergreen are often main ingredients. Both of these break down (chemically) into salicylic acid (main component of aspirin) and are the pulverized or distilled form of plants. Some brands are White Flower Analgesic Balm (very strong and best used sparingly), Eagle Brand Medicated Oil (moderate in strength). This will warm up your feet in a chilly studio or just provide relief to achy feet. Ping On Pointment (mild strength) provides a calming effect and mild heat.

Plasters (Wu Yang Brand) can be helpful if larger areas are effect (like the lower back). But you have to wear this all night and it can be messy and smell very “mediciney.”

 Arnica-based Products

Arnica is an effective pain-reliever. It’s main active ingredient does not produce a heating or cooling sensation. Traumeel is a brand containing arnica that has been used with success. It contains mineral and plant extracts that reduce inflammation, decrease pain and accelerate wound healing. Traumeel can be found online or in health food stores.

Biofreeze is another option that contains arnica and works well on the bony areas (knees, ankles, wrists, elbows) comes in gel, spray and roll-on. But it must be purchased through your doctor.

Be Safe With These Options

These options are safe but may not be appropriate for everyone. Check them out for any potential allergic reactions that you may have and always test them on a small area of your body first. You should also be careful with liniments if you have sensitive skin. If you have a reaction, wash the area clean with soapy, warm water and rinse with cool water. If there is redness, apply an ice pack for 15 minutes. Benedryl may also combat the reaction. If your reaction persists or worsens, seek medical attention.

Sources: Dance Studio Life, Dance Informa, Dance Advantage

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