Even before shows like "Dance Moms" and "America's Got Talent" entertained viewers, generations of young boys and girls have grown up with dreams of stardom in dance, theatre or music, but those who follow their dreams know that it takes years of mental and physical discipline and, as one osteopathic physician (DO) points out, it also strains their developing bodies.
During the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) OMED 2012, the Osteopathic Medical Conference & Exposition, Rebeccah R. Rodriguez, DO, an AOA board-certified family physician and company physician for the San Diego Ballet, the Academy of Performing Arts of San Diego and the San Diego Symphony, discussed the stress that training in the performing arts puts on adolescents' bodies and how to prevent injuries.
"As a former professional dancer, I absolutely encourage young artists to follow their dreams," says Dr. Rodriguez. "But parents should be aware of the potential for injury and discuss their child's artistic goals and training with their physician so they can work together to treat injuries early."
There are certain injuries that are unique to each genre of the performing arts. For instance, advanced ballerinas-- who can spend an average 35-40 hour per week dancing-- are prone to strained hip flexor muscles and pain in their knees due to repeatedly turning out their legs to 180 degree angles. Dr. Rodriguez believes that treating injuries early can help avoid further complications, but she also reminds dancers to discuss their upcoming roles or performances with their physician so they can ensure their bodies will be able to handle the physical demands.
In the case of singers-- who run the risk of vocal cord injuries, chronic laryngitis and nodules or cysts forming on vocal cords due to overuse-- Dr. Rodriguez suggests avoiding whispering or yelling, and cutting out spicy foods and drinking 10-12 glasses of water daily as soon as they start to experience hoarseness, which is often the first sign of a vocal issue. They should also talk to their physician about prescribing a medication that is not drying (i.e. antihistamines), which can also irritate the vocal cords.
"The level of skill and competition for young performers is so much greater than it was even five years ago," adds Dr. Rodriguez. "As the talent bar is raised, adolescents are at greater risk for injuries."
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