Joints: How We Create Shapes and Lines

We are better dancers when we are armed with knowledge. We need to understand our 206 bones (alignment), our muscles (strength v. flexiblity), our joints, our ligaments and our weaknesses. If we know our bodies, then we are better prepared to head into class to control all of those moving parts. Today, we examine our joints.

First, ask yourself:

1. What is always sore after you're finished dancing?

2. What feels tight?

3. What do you feel you need to pop or bang on?

4. Where do you feel like you get stuck?

Now, let us dive into dancer anatomy to try to uncover some of your mysterious aches, pains or challenges.

Photo by: Matthew Fang

Your Joints:

A joint is where two bones meet. The three main joints are: ball-and-socket joints, hinge joints and gliding joints. Each of these joints serves a different purpose.

Ball-and-socket joints: Your hips and shoulders are ball-and-socket joints. That means the end of one bone is rounded, and the end of the other bone is cup shaped. The rounded part of one bone fits into the cup shaped cavity. This allows the joint to rotate in the socket as well flexion (folding of a joint) and extension (straightening of a joint).

Gliding joints: Gliding joints are hard to pinpoint because they're small and they don't do anything that obvious to us as dancers, but we still need them! Gliding joints can be found in our wrists, ankles and where each rib with the vertebrae. Gliding joints allow our bones to move very little, but that is for our own protection. You wouldn't want your ribs popping out everytime you did a rib isolation, would you?

Hinge joints: These (along with ball-and-socket joints) are dancers' most joints. Our knees and elbows are hinge joints. Hinge joints allow us to create a straight line or a bent line, and dancers love to play with lines.

Actions of Your Joints:

Flexion: Bending, folding of a joint. {For ex: A grand battement is the hip flexing or bending}

Extension: Straightening of a joint. {For ex: During a développé from retiré, the knee joint must straighten}

Abduction: Moving away from center. {For ex: Arms opening in a la second}

Adduction: Moving toward the center. {For ex: Assemblé. Your legs come together toward your center line}

External Rotation: Rotating outward. {For ex: Turning out during tendu and pulling the heel forward}

Internal Rotation: Rotating inward. {For ex: When placing your hand on your hip, your shoulder joint will rotate inward}

Plantar flexion: Pointing the foot. {For ex: This also include relevé}

Dorsiflexion: Flexing the foot. {For ex: Rock back in your heels and lift your toes off of the ground}

Photo by: Gwyn Michael

Taking Care of Your Joints:

As dancers, we are particularly hard on our joints. Since we need them to be working (and we need them to be strong) we have to take care of them.

1. Do not hyperextend your joints (your knees, elbows, wrists). When you hyperextend it adds stress to the small ligaments that hold the joint together. Once you compromise your joint's ligaments, it will require you to depend on your muscles to hold the joint in place, which makes you extremely vulnerable to injury.

2. Strengthen all of the muscles that help support and protect the joint. For example, to protect the knee you should be doing wall squats, step ups, step downs, bridges and kneecap clenches. This strengths the muscles in your legs that help hold the knee together, in place and strong.

3. Watch your posture and alignment (hint, hint: Use your core muscles!) Remember, joints are where two bones meet so you want to be aware of how you're standing throughout the day. Even when you're standing in line at the grocery store, you may shift your weight back or forward which could throw your alignment off and put unnecessary pressure on a joint. Try to always stand with your core engaged and weight evenly distributed in your feet.

4. Watch how you're moving. For example, during pliés - are your knees going out over your toes? When you're in a lunge, is your knee at a 90-degree angle? If you are not executing a move properly, you are putting added (and potentially, unsafe) pressure on a joint. We have to approach our dancing world with a "joint-aware" mindset. Now that you know what ways the joints are able to move and their specific purpose, you can mentally and physically protect your joint.

5. Take long baths with Epsom salt. When you place your joints in water, it removes gravity from the equation and allows them to rest instead of holding your body weight or fighting gravity. A long, hot bath also soothes tight and achey muscles which also pull on our joints.

6. Eat foods with Omega-3 fatty acids. Fish, walnuts, tuna, shrimp and brussel sprouts all have Omega-3 fatty acids which decrease inflammation in joints.

Photo by: Amazing Almonds

Dancer Question: How do you take care of your joints?

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