If you have children who are into their dancing or gymnastics, then this article takes a serious look at how to ensure they are protecting their precious bodies when stretching. A really important professional insight from Jen at Smart Health Training & Services.

So many dancing students are now turning to YouTube and Instagram to find  the ultimate stretch positions. With the advent of social media, our students now have access to the techniques being used all over the world, at the touch of their thumb. My concern with this is that the stretching techniques are not being monitored as they are publicly distributed and more so, our students are attempting the stretches without the supervision of a teacher or trainer.

Many dancers are good dancers because of their genetic hypermobility. This is when they have mobile joints and it is essentially part of their DNA (genetic make up). I see in the studios, when a student is praised for good flexibility they continue to stretch more and more because it is their positive. They reach a point, where they begin to overstretch into a dangerous joint range and this is where damage may occur.

When one is genetically hypermobile, the ligaments which are designed to protect their joints are loser than the norm, allowing them to move into beyond range. As they progress their stretching, particularly the extremes that we see on the internet, they are stretching their surrounding long muscles and boney joint connection to a maximum end range. At this point the ligaments begin to stretch further, thus reducing the ability to protect the joint surfaces. Once a ligament has been stretched, it cannot be retightened.

I feel we need to ensure that our students understand the difference between stretching the long muscles between joints (hamstrings, drivers, calf) and the ligaments at the joints. When one hangs into a stretch with elastics, off a chair or off a block, gravity pulls them further into the bad range. The joints and ligaments are stretched into a mechanical disadvantage where they cannot support that joint when it is time to get out of the position.

So what should we do? We need our students to understand why some are hypermobile and why some aren’t. We need them to understand the expectations of their own body. Yes,  everyone can achieve a degree of lengthening in their long muscles through correct stretching techniques, massage and foam rolling. There is a degree as to where we can safely stretch too. Every student should have their stretching program supervised initially and a check on technique. Boney alignment needs to be maintained whilst stretching to ensure that ligament or joint damage does not occur over time. I am a strong advocate of stretching but it needs to be done correctly for at least 10 minutes with control and method. Unfortunately, not hanging out in your bedroom whilst on You Tube.

If you have any concerns about your child’s need or want to stretch, feel free to book them in with us at Smart Health to create a safe, efficient and helpful short program that is directed exactly to the child’s needs. This will allow them to reach their full flexibility potential.

Jen Guest is a Physiotherapist and Senior Pilates Practitioner at Smart Health Training & Services who holds a strong belief in working with junior dancers through their developmental years to achieve maximum potential. 

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