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Neurological Pain Tolerance and Dancers

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In order to become a professional dancer you must be able to push yourself through numerous boundaries. To do this, dancers tend to become very high- strung perfectionists. They develop into highly motivated individuals that are not willing to give up- no matter what it costs. Dancer’s strong work ethic gives them the facility to get their bodies to fly across the stage and extend their legs high to the sky. Sometimes dancers compensate their bodies in order to achieve these skills, which cause small injuries to occur. In the world of dance this can be extremely dangerous because it leads to other chronic pain disorders. Because of dancers highly driven personalities they tend to ignore pain in certain areas because they fear disappointment from their teachers and themselves.

Dancing with an injury for a set period of time can accumulate and worsen, which causes a much more serious injury to develop. Therefore, dancers develop certain coping mechanisms that allow them to dance with extreme levels of pain and exhaustion. Dancers from a young age are taught that in order to achieve in this industry they must work through the pain and exhaustion if you want to be successful. Even when dancer’s bodies are experiencing several changes they are taught to keep training. Bowerman et. al. (2014) specifically looked at how young ballet dancers experiencing puberty are at a heightened risk of injury due to their changes in maturation. During the time of puberty in a dancer’s life they usually are transitioning into point shoes, while experiencing increased growth rates of their feet and lower extremities. Therefore, dancers tend to make various compensations in the knee valgus angle, especially on their preferred leg to work on. This results in misalignment and overuse of the lower extremities that eventually can lead to injury (Bowerman et. al., 2004).

Overuse of particular muscles is commonly associated with dancers pervasiveness and inability to stop training when they feel pain. Dancers tend to fear specific injuries because they feel the need to stay competitive with their peers, and not being able to train for several months can cause utter disappointment in a dancers life (Encarnacion et. al., 2000). It is of deep concern to understand at what point a dancer must detect a pain severe enough to be a possible injury. Dance becomes more intense with longer and more rigorous hours of rehearsals, with increased years of training, It has been found that increased years in dance training correlates with intensity put on both the mind and the body of professional dancers. The higher the dancers skill level becomes, the more likely they are to overlook existing injuries. A simple snapping sound coming from a dancer’s hip, or a pain coming from strained muscle aces can actually result in small injuries that eventually lead to chronic disorders. This suggests that overtime dancers teach themselves to have pain appraisal strategies that help them dance with an injury (Paparizos et. al., 2005).

Studies have looked into the neurological strategies and methods that highly physical people use to tolerate extreme amounts of pain. Specifically, it is possible that dancers learn to control emotions related to pain in their highly stressful environment due to the competitive nature of the performer. Dancers pick up certain coping mechanisms that allow them to dance for many years with an undetected injury. Dancers tend to have lower level of catastrophizing emotions. The process of catastrophizing occurs when people believe their symptoms to be much more negative than what they actually are. It has been found that highly physically people tend to ignore these catastrophizing emotions in order to achieve certain levels of success. The study conducted by Paparizos et. al (2005) supports this theory of catastrophizing. They found that catastrophizing strategies predict pain perception behavior in non- dancers, therefore they exhibit higher negative emotions related to pain.

For professional dancers however, Paparizos et. al. (2005) found that measurements of magnification (perceived level of threat regarding the pain stimulus) was much more effective in determining dancers pain perception. This can be interpreted as the dancers ability to monitor their pain level and push through the existing pain stimuli taking place in their body. For the non-dancers participating in this study, they experienced higher levels of helplessness, which therefore explains their stronger catastrophizing emotions (Paparizo et. al., 2005). Dancers who have been training for several years are typically seasoned professionals at monitoring their bodies; but sometimes they are unable to detect an accumulating injury. Most commonly injuries occur when dancers are overtraining and using improper technique. Therefore, it would be safe to assume that a more skillful dancer would be able to detect when they are properly injured. Encarnacion, et. al. (2000) worked with a series of professional versus non-professional dancers on a high school and collegiate level, and then compared their perception of pain to other athletes.

Participants were asked to complete the SIP (Sports Inventory of Pain), which measures levels of cognitive appraisals, coping mechanisms, catastrophizing, and body awareness. When looking at ballet dancers compared to other skilled athletes, the dancers participating in this study and other studies like this one showed significantly different results. Dancers have scored lower on cognitive and show strong coping mechanisms. Their coping mechanisms seem to specific to their talent/ sport. This relates back to dancers interesting psychological abilities. Dancers are more willing to withstand high levels of pain compared to an average person because it is what they must endure on a day to basis in order to be successful (Paparizos et. al., 2005).

Among in-group statisitics the question still stands if professional dancers have a higher tolerance of pain compared to recreational dancers. Interestingly enough, the results of several studies have found that there was no significant main effect for pain coping mechanisms for pre professional and professional ballet dancers. However, in terms of catastrophizing emotions Paparizos et. al (2005) and Encarnacion et. al. (2000) both found that higher skilled dancers showed lower levels of catastrophizing emotions. This subtle difference in results may be due to the greater threat value of an injury that occurs at a professional level, rather than a recreational level. Besides for the difference in catastrophizing emotions, it can be inclusive to believe that the reason why ballet dancers across various levels, may have similar perceptions of pain because of their trained psychological uniformity to be a successful ballerina (Encarnacion et. al., 2000). With that being said, it is possible that the competitive nature of the sport causes dancers to have a universally higher pain threshold compared to other athletes or average physically active people. This is why dancers tend to have high risk factors for various injuries because they are not taking the time to rest their bodies when they are in overuse. This particular topic is of interest for further investigation.

Studies have looked at the pain threshold abilities of dancers and other athletes, but there is less information about the mechanisms in which dancers are able to keep dancing with an existing injury (Paparizos et. al., 2005). This knowledge would be extremely beneficial to this particular industry because it would give professionals a better understanding of how to deal with dancers who are getting injured frequently. Knowledge on this subject would allow dancers to get the necessary treatment for the mental and physical strains that dance puts on them. Dance is a magnificent facility for individuals to grow in strength for both their mind and body, but if a dancer wants a career that will last for several years, they must take care of both their body and mind in a way that prevents them serious injuries.

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Neurological Pain Tolerance and Dancers. (2019, August 27). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 8, 2022, from
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