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Instep Dance Magazine Articles

Reprints of monthly column as first appearing in Instep Dance Magazine.

June 1997

Weary Weekend Warriors

By Rick Allen, DC

Oh, those aching muscles!

You went to a fun weekend of nonstop dancing. Now, a day or two later, you are paying the price. Arghh, the dull pain from sore muscles! Was it Folk Life in Seattle last month? Was it the Rose City Classic a couple of months ago? Will it be a Tri-City's workshop this summer? Are you a weary weekend warrior in the dance world?

Technically, you have Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, known as DOMS for short. While it doesn't seem as bad as a cramp or gross tearing of a muscles, it really serious? As I said last month, pain is the body's warning signal that something is wrong. While soreness may not be sharp, excruciating pain, it deserves attention. Let's look at the latest research and give you some practical tips to keep dancing (nearly) pain free.

Muscle Damage

Hard exercise causes muscle damage. If you looked under a microscope at your sore muscles after a hard workout you would see torn and ruptured individual muscle cells, and breakdown of the membranes between them. Creatine kinase (CK) and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) are two enzymes that escape the cell and can be measured in the bloodstream. Scientists can measure levels of CK and LDH to determine the extent of damage to the muscles without having to take biopsies of muscle tissue. High intensity exercise causes higher blood levels of CK and muscle soreness.

(Eccentric exercises, such as running down hill or doing "negatives" when weight training are more damaging than concentric exercises, such as lifting weights up, thus causing the most soreness. This is a technical point that really doesn't apply to social dancing; I mention it for those of you who lift weights or are athletes in other sports.)

Minimizing Sore Muscles

Remember, as a dancer you are an athlete. Good training habits help. Being a weekend warrior hurts. A weekend warrior does little exercise during the week. The words "couch potato" come to mind. Then, with a burst of enthusiasm, the weekend warrior "seizes the weekend", running, playing, dancing, etc. A better strategy is to exercise regularly. Go dancing 2 or 3 times a week! Doctor's orders!

Start with a slow warm up. A foxtrot will do nicely. Cold muscles suddenly put to work are more likely to become damaged than ones that have been warmed up properly. Warming up gradually will increase your heart and breathing rates, increasing the flow of oxygen and nutrients to your muscles before you begin to work them hard. In addition, your joints secrete more synovial fluid and become less stiff. The body is properly adapting to the demands of exercise.

Between dances, do a bit of stretching. You can do some beneficial stretches unobtrusively even when dressed nicely. Slowly bend down, reaching for your toes. Hang forward, counting to 15. Let gravity do the stretching. Don't force the stretch. Then lean over to each side, making a giant letter "C", again for 15 seconds. Then bend your knees and shift from side to side, stretching the groin muscles. Lastly, roll your shoulders around a couple of times. Now you're ready for more vigorous dancing. Have fun.

During the dance, be sure to drink lots of water. Avoid alcohol, which is a diuretic, stealing water from your body. You're an athlete, right! And remember to eat a high carbohydrate, low fat diet so your muscles have plenty of fuel.

If you are building a strength and endurance program keep your intensity or duration increases to 10% or less each week. Do not increase both intensity and duration during the same week. Allow your body to recover properly and adapt slowly to improved performance levels.

Helping Sore Muscles Recovery Naturally

Even with the preventative strategies, you are likely to develop sore muscles at some time. Because of heavy advertising, you may think the answer is nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), such as Ibuprofen, Advil or Allieve. Think twice. There's now evidence that anti-inflammatories reduce discomfort because they are also analgesic (pain killers), but actually slow healing because they suppress beneficial prostaglandins, agents which help the body heal naturally. Worse yet, taken at typical dosages over a lifetime, the risk of kidney failure increases 7 to 8 fold.

A better natural strategy is to do the following:

Drink lots of water - even more than the usually recommended 6 to 8 glasses each day.

Take 1000 mg of vitamin C and 100-200 mg of bromelain, an enzyme from pineapples, for two days - these are natural anti-inflammatories. Commercially available herbal formulas may also contain quercetin, tumeric and white willow. White willow is the natural precursor for aspirin, so avoid this if you are sensitive or allergic to aspirin.

Do some gentle exercise - just like race horses that are walked out after a race and ridden lightly the next day.

Get a massage - even though research hasn't proved this to speed healing, massage has been shown to lower levels of CK, stimulate neutrophils (white blood cells that fight inflammation), and athletes reported lower levels of DOMS. I've treated lots of athletes who will testify as to how much better they feel after a massage. Many of the bicyclists who ride 400+ miles over the week of Cycle Oregon swear by it.

Take an epsom salt bath or use the pool and hot tub for 15 minutes of relaxation.

The last three encourage good blood flow through your muscles. That's the key to quick, natural healing.

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