Muscle spasms and muscle cramps (spasms that last more than a few seconds) are common amongst dancers. They can be caused by a number of factors including overuse, dehydration, and sustained positions (#adagio). Unlike athletes, dancers not only have to push through unexpected muscle cramps, but we often have to do it with a smile! Here are a few tips that can help prevent (or, at least reduce) these painful surprise spasms during class, rehearsal, auditions, or performance.
Warm-up: If you throw yourself into dancing while your body is still cold, your muscles aren’t ready to support your movement. It’s as if your alarm went off really loud an hour earlier than you expected – Your muscles feel panicked and tense up in “fight or flight” mode. Ease your body (and mind) into your day of dancing with some easy cardio, light and fluid stretching, and core activation. Think of your warm-up as a little love letter to your body, “Dear body—It’s almost time to dance. Let’s get moving!”
Keep hydrated: Water and electrolytes allow your muscles to contract and release. Without adequate hydration, you’re susceptible to muscle cramps, exhaustion, and symptoms of dehydration like dizziness and nausea. Gulp down a bottle of water first thing in the morning and keep sipping throughout the day. Spice things up with coconut water for a little extra potassium (and flavor).
Stretch post-dancing: After your class or rehearsal, slip off your dance shoes and stretch/roll out your calves, arches, quads, and hamstrings (which are common spasm sites). Dancing all day in character heels or pointe shoes can tighten up the muscles in your legs. Cooldown stretches will release and calm down these muscles so you’re less likely to wake up with a “charley horse” in the middle of the night.
Fuel with the right foods: 30 minutes to an hour before you start dancing, chomp on a snack that’s high in electrolytes. Easy go-to snacks are bananas, raisins, almonds, dates, avocado, yogurt, beans, and lentils.
Commit to getting stronger: Strengthening the smaller muscles in your feet will allow you to achieve a better point and to sustain that high rélevé. Practice toe curls with a towel, articulate through your arch with a TheraBand, and incorporate heel raises into your pre-class warm-up routine.
Breathe through it: If you do suffer a spasm mid-dancing, try not to panic! The pain will pass eventually. Take deep breaths and stay calm. Once you get off-stage or finish the combination, massage your sore muscle with your hands or elbow. Slap on a little Icy Hot or Tiger Balm for some extra relief.
We’ve all experienced muscle cramps at some point in our dancing career. If you have any helpful advice to share, be sure to leave a comment below!