There’s no if’s or but’s about it. Pole Dancing is an extreme sport. And like any extreme sport, there is an extremely high risk of injury. Pole Dance, in particular, has a particularly high risk of causing muscular imbalances, both left to right (as in good side and dork side) and opposing muscle imbalances.
A large part of the reason I became so interested in cross-training as a tool for Pole Dancers is that I have had injury upon injury this last year, and have been working closely with a sports physiotherapist in an effort to rehab my injuries, and prehab any further problems.
My pole injuries to date:
Forearm Tendonitis and Trapezius Tendonitis:
When I started Pole Dancing in November 2017, it was my first real time on the pole since 2006. I was not particularly fit or strong, but my body remembered enough to be dangerous. I went into a beginners pole class, and because I could physically hoist myself into an invert, I was immediately placed into a higher level of beginners training. While this was great for my ego, it was terrible for my body. I skipped the vital conditioning aspects of the true beginners’ moves, and started working on inversions and split grip moves before I was ready. Because my connective tissue was not conditioned over time, I developed an inflammation of the tendons in my forearms from split grip work like cradle spins and Jamilla/apprentice, and the tendons in my trapezius from using momentum to jump into my basic invert. I pushed through the pain to a point that my forearm tendonitis affected my grip strength, causing me to fall, upside-down from the pole, without a crash mat, and started a chain reaction in my shoulder.
I tried to train through the pain, only to find it getting worse, week-on-week. In the end, I had to take a complete rest from training. It took about a month for the inflammation to completely disappear. When I was no longer experiencing any pain whatsoever, I was able to return to pole. I had to swallow my pride and return to the most basic of beginners classes. I tried really hard to focus on my technique over my “achievements”. By changing my focus to perfecting my technique in even the most basic of moves, I was able to condition my body over time and develop the strength necessary to safely progress.
As mentioned above, my forearm tendonitis got so out of control that it affected my grip strength. One day, during class, I was halfway up the pole, attempted to change body position while in frog pose. My grip strength failed and I fell. I fell about 1.5 metres, upside-down, and landed with full force on the back of my shoulder. I cut my shoulder rather badly and was horribly bruised, but I shook it off and kept training (I know, I’m an idiot). In retrospect, I was INCREDIBLY lucky not to break anything. I thought I had gotten off relatively scot-free, so I didn’t even bother to see a doctor or physio. That was a bad decision. About 6-weeks to 2 months after my fall, I developed a pain inside the shoulder joint on that side. It started off as just a twinge when my shoulder was extended and under load – static power spins became quite painful. Stupidly, I once again ignored it and tried to train through the pain, but it became progressively worse. It reached a point where the pain was present at all times, I did not have my full range of motion through my shoulder anymore, and the pain was affecting the quality of my sleep. I finally did what I should have done 2 months earlier. I found a great sports physiotherapist and booked an appointment. It turns out that the fall had done just enough to my shoulder to cause an impingement. An impingement is when soft tissue from around the joint gets “pinched” at some point while your joint is moving, and over time it becomes angry and inflamed. This was exacerbated by my rotator cuff being a little bit too tight and inflexible through a specific range of motion. It was further made worse by a muscular imbalance that is, apparently, all too common in Pole Dancers – my Latissimus Dorsi muscles (the ones that give bodybuilders that famous V-shaped back) were underdeveloped and being compensated for by my Trapezius (a diamond-shaped muscle that runs from the base of your skull, out to the back of your shoulders/arms and down to your mid-spine) and Deltoids (the main shoulder muscle).
This was a much more complicated injury than my tendonitis issues, with a much longer recovery time. For the first few weeks of my rehab, I was seriously restricted in what I could do, training-wise. I might as well have been told to stop training altogether. I was explicitly told that I could not do handstands, pull-ups or power spins, and anything that hurt even a little bit was also to be avoided. I was given very painful deep tissue massage and told to use my lacrosse ball to massage the affected area daily. Once the inflammation had started to dissipate, I was given more deep tissue massage, as well as 2 specific exercises. One was a rather uncomfortable stretch designed to loosen up my rotator cuff, and the other was an activity designed to teach my body to activate my lats (latissimus dorsi as explained above). I basically had to tie a battle rope to a weight sled and play tug-of-war.
After a few weeks of this, I was able to return to weight lifting, but on a specific regimen of movements that were designed to teach my body to activate my lats when using my body in various ways. This included dynaband pull-downs, chest-press, strict overhead press and triceps pullovers. After following this regime for around a month, I was no longer experiencing shoulder pain and was given the all-clear to return to training as per usual.
The whole recovery process took around 3 months.
Fractured bone in foot:
During my second training session after being given the all-clear from the Physio to return to full training, I was doing some particularly violent exotic choreo in heels ( I love a good heel clack!) and smashed my foot so hard on the ground that I fractured one of the small bones in my foot. Fortunately, this was a relatively minor injury, and after one week off my feet, I was much improved. I was not able to do heels choreo for a few weeks, and excessive walking got pretty painful, but I was able to return to an amended training routine after a week or so, and regular training after a month or so.
Current injury status:
I’m not completely injury-free, although I aspire to be. At this moment, I am training with a suspected AC joint impingement (another part of my shoulder) that I really need to see my physio about. I’m horrible when it comes to making an appointment with a medical professional.
I’m really working on being better though. I am religious about training both sides, I’m trying to choose my cross-training exercises responsibly, and I’m even studying as a personal trainer to better educate myself about safe training practice, both for myself, and to help others. I’ve committed to monthly sports massages to try and address the impact of the volume of training I am doing.
Moral of the story:
The moral of the story is really to warn you to take care of your body. Pole Dancing is a particularly enslaving sport, and people who pole dance will often push through injury in order to continue training. Don’t be that person.
Listen to your body, train both sides, and if you start to feel a pain that is more than just muscle soreness, see a medical professional.
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