Dancers are known for their extreme flexibility, but can you take it too far? The answer is yes. In the social media world we live in, we are exposing children to images of stretches that almost seem in-human. Dance teachers are often cautious about taking on such practices, but feel pressured to keep up with the times by both students and parents. However, erring on the side of caution is not a bad thing. The possible dangers that exist with over stretching are high. Training young adolescents is much different than training adults, it is important your dance teacher is aware of the possible dangers that exist and how to prevent them in young dancers.
What is “Over Stretching”
Generally, over stretching is taking a joint past its natural physiological range of motion, stretching the ligaments that support the joint, so the range of motion becomes larger. You can also force the body into positions which can damage the tissues in the joint that had previously restricted the range. Many young students already have hypermobility, and they are being put into positions that overload one specific area, just to achieve a dramatic range flexibility with no idea what the true cost is.
What are the risks?
Pushing your joints past the normal range of motion can result in damaging the surrounding tissues in the joint. For example, if the hip joint is pushed too far it can cause damage not only to the soft tissues but the labrum of the hip as well. Or in the case of the spine, it can damage the discs that give us the capacity for shock absorption and range of motion. Young students who are not fully developed risk damaging their hip sockets and could even develop spinal stress fractures. Long term risks from the damaged cartilage can cause arthritic changes and alignment problems in the future. There is now x-ray evidence that adolescent bones are very vulnerable and any kind of aggressive over stretching should be avoided.
Why does it come easily for some and not for others?
That all boils down to physiology. Everyone is different, and some people have more mobility in their ligaments and find it easier for them to achieve positions that require extreme mobility. If you are built this way, you may need to be even more careful since your ligaments are less resilient in the long run. This could be caused by Ehlers–Danlos syndrome (EDS).
Those that have more mobility in their joints will find it more difficult to obtain correct posture, which can cause soreness in the lower back and neck.
How do you know if you are stretching too much?
When you are working on flexibility exercises, you should not be experiencing pain. If you see that the position is hard and uncomfortable for a student to hold that means the body is fighting back and generally that means it is not safe. It should feel like a generalized tension.
You should NOT Feel:
- Joint pain
- The need to crack your joint
- A strong pull, this can be a nerve
- Pain in the opposite area you are stretching (ie the back hip when doing splits) * more pressure does not help
- There should be NO pain the next day from stretching.
Being involved in training young students is a rewarding and exciting experience, much different than training adults. It is important to be aware that there are dangers that exist and it’s teacher’s responsibility to learn the safest possible ways to help students achieve their goals. It is also important to educate young students on what is suitable for their training, depending what their chosen dance goals may be. Achieving greatness at an elite level does not mean you have to cause long-term damage to your body. A dancer’s body has to be nurtured, refined and trained to ensure a long and sustainable career. This can take time, but the results are worth it!