My wife is an amazing dancer. Her elegance and identity shine bright on the hardwood floor when she does her thing. As she is no longer 15 years old and has the body of an adult woman, her flexibility has changed. Why? Are her muscles tighter? Deeper joint sockets? Nerve tension? All of these can be possible reasons and have a different treatment. A specific diagnosis can improve dancing flexibility so she can still kick her leg up high and touch her forehead.
What are tissues that can limit flexibility?
When you’re standing and you reach down to touch your toes, you might feel a slight stretch. That stretching sensation can come from more than just muscle tightness. Running down beside your muscles are nerves that can also be limited due to neuromechanical sensitization. Those two fancy words mean that the nerves are irritated and you can feel them stretch. Another problem that can limit your range of motion on a forward bend is the joint itself. Joints have capsules that surround both bones that make up a joint. Sometimes there can be a slight neuromechanical issue that limits how far you can bend them.
How do I know which tissue is limiting my flexibility?
Below are a series of tests to determine what is hindering your flexibility.
Standing Lumbar Flexion
Stand up with your feet together. Bend down and reach for the ground as far as possible. What do you feel? Is it a stretch in the back of the legs? What about tension in the lower back? Is it a pinch in the front of the hips? Remember the sensations you feel because we will constantly reuse this test to see if there is an improvement.
Hip Joint Test
Lie down on your back with legs straight and flat on the ground. Lift the right knee up to your chest. Get it as close as possible. What do you feel?
Option 1: Pinch in the front of the hip. This pinch is most likely due to a pinch of a muscle in between the two bones that make up the hip. If this is the case, perform this banded hip traction for 2 minutes. Retest the Joint Test on your right side and see if it goes away. If it does, retest your standing lumbar test and see if it improved your range of motion on the right side.
Option 2: You feel tightness in the glute/buttock area. If this is the case, hold the right knee close to the chest for 2 minutes with the left leg straight. Restest the Standing Lumbar Flexion to see if your right side improves.
Test the Left Side.
Straight Leg Raise Test
Stay on your back. Slightly bend your right knee so it lifts off the ground. While the right knee is bent, pull your toes up, pointing them to your nose. Keep your toes pointing up and straighten the leg back down. Keep the toes pointed up and lift your leg as high as you can, keeping it straight. Stop when you feel tension. Keeping the leg in the air, tuck your chin into your chest. Does the tension increase or decrease? Lie your head back down. Now point your toes down, away from your face. Does the tension decrease? If tension increases/decreases with your head or foot movement, the stretch sensation you are feeling is not a muscle being tensioned. It is a nerve and they DO NOT like to be stretched. Here are two options to try to help alleviate the tension.
Option 1: Lie down. Bend your knees until your feet are flat on your back. Then rest here for 10 minutes. Retest the straight leg raise test to see if your tension has decreased or you can bend your hip more.
Option 2: Nerve glides. Stand with your tested side slightly behind your untested side. Now bend your knee and lift your heel. Reset. Repeat about 50 times. Retest your straight leg raise. If this improves your flexibility, perform up to 500x a day.
Hamstring Flexibility Test
Lie down on your back (lots of testing lying down). Grab with both hands in your knee pit and lift your knee to your chest. Keeping your toes pointing down (away from your face), straighten your leg. If you feel the tension here (in the hamstring area), you have hamstring tightness.
Option 1: While standing, lift one leg onto a box or high step. Keep the foot flat. Slightly push away from the step or box allowing your lifted leg to straighten out. Continue until you feel the same stretch. Repeat the hamstring flexibility test.
You have thoroughly gone through a multitude of tests to find out what tissue is being tensioned. You also have the knowledge of what do to for treatment.
When should you perform the treatment that was most beneficial for you? You should do it right before dancing or in between each practice set to improve flexibility. It should NOT be done at the end of the practice session. This breaks down the whole purpose of the treatment. You want to be flexible for the dance, NOT after it.
If you are looking for ways to improve dancing flexibility, the tests above are your first steps. If you are not finding these helpful, reach out to HERE to schedule with a physical therapist.