I had the privilege of sitting down with my friend, dancer, performer and now highly regarded NYC acupuncturist Erika Weber on the topic of acupuncture as a means for injury prevention and treatment in our younger dancers. If you have dancers of your own interested in this option, this is the interview for you! Very informative and some great advice to share in your studio! Enjoy!
As a dancer and Broadway performer yourself, when and how did you discover the benefits of acupuncture while you were performing? The weekend before I auditioned for the Guys and Dolls national tour, I went water skiing and I tore the MCL in my right knee. On the day of the audition I had such limited range of movement in that knee that I took 4 Advil beforehand and hoped for the best. I got the show and thought "Oh God how am I going to do this?" I had only two weeks before rehearsals began, so I started physical therapy immediately. The PT was helping but it wasn't until I tried Acupuncture that I began to see significant progress in my recovery. I still remember vividly the moments after my first treatment: I got off the table and while leaving I immediately walked down a flight of stairs, noticing that all the while I was able to completely bend and straighten my leg with no pain. The inflammation came back after a few days, but it wasn't as severe and I felt the measurable improvement so I stuck with it.
For those that are unfamiliar with the practice, could you give an overview to the benefits of acupuncture for dancers and athletes? Acupuncture can benefit dancers and athletes in many ways. First of all, for physical ailments it can speed the healing time of injuries by reducing inflammation and bringing increased blood flow to the injured area. Also, there are specific points in the body that reduce pain to help with overtaxed muscles. Other benefits include specific protocols, such as trigger point therapy, which I use on my dancers and athletes to treat various myofascial injuries. Mentally, Acupuncture can be effective in reducing stress, a common factor that comes with being a professional athlete or dancer.
What are some common dance injuries acupuncture is used for? The most common dance injuries I see in my practice are neck and shoulder pain, low back pain, knee and ankle strains and sprains, tendonitis in any joint, piriformis syndrome, tight hip flexors, bicep tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, and arthritis. I have seen acupuncture work wonders on all of this. Also, when dancers have to undergo surgery, acupuncture can help speed up their recovery time in getting them back to dancing form.
How old is an appropriate age to start acupuncture as a form of injury treatment? Acupuncture with a licensed professional is a safe alternative for children with dance injuries. I see children as young as 12 years old in my practice.
In younger dancers, is there any situation where you advise the delay of acupuncture as a treatment option?... i.e. during a growth spurt, puberty, etc. As long as you are going to a licensed professional that has experience treating children, or young adults, there should not be any restrictions on acupuncture for an otherwise healthy child. Before starting any alternative healthcare treatments dialoguing with your general practitioner is recommended. Also, it is highly recommended to get a referral to a licensed acupuncturist who specializes in sports injuries along with having experience with younger patients.
For dance teachers who have students with recurring injuries, what is your advice to them in advising their own students who are interested in acupuncture treatment? If students have recurring injuries, it usually means they need to strengthen the muscles in the surrounding areas. In that situation, I usually suggest going to see a physical therapist first. They may suggest getting an x-ray or MRI of the area to see if there is any damage that is responsible for the recurring injury. If there is tightness or inflammation, an acupuncturist can help with this during the PT process. Acupuncture can speed injury recovery so it would be something good for teachers to recommend to students regardless.
Is acupuncture ever used as a form of injury prevention as well? How so? Routine acupuncture treatments can be used to maintain muscle relaxation and prevent increased tightness that comes with strenuous usage. As dancers should know, when your muscles are healthy and loose there is greater range of motion and not the rigidity that commonly leads to injuries with repetitive stress motions.
How do treatments differ, say from a one-time injury vs. recurring, overuse injuries? Changes in treatment protocol have less to do with one-time vs. recurring injury and more to do with the type of injury and its location. It is those factors and the unique sensitivities of a patient that dictate treatment protocol and techniques used. As a general rule, all injuries tend to cause some degree of inflammation and acupuncture is effective in dealing with that.
Is it important for younger dancers to use acupuncture in conjunction with things like traditional physician visits, other alternative medicine practices, cross training exercise, meditation, etc.? Alternative/complimentary medicine can be very beneficial for young dancers. The key to a healthy body is keeping the body strong and loose at the same time, and that balance can be hard to maintain. Strength training is very important along with massage therapy/acupuncture to promote this balance. However, it is very important for young dancers to understand their own body and know which types of therapies and training works best for them. With any regimen sometimes you have to try things before you know whether they are effective in your situation.
Alongside the physical benefits, what are the emotional and mental benefits for younger dancers seeking acupuncture? Young dancers can have a lot of pressures put on them from their teachers, parents and mostly themselves. Some acupuncture techniques that work on the central nervous system can be used to help with anxiety, insomnia, a nervous stomach and restlessness.
How long does treatment usually last? An acupuncture treatment is usually about an hour long and everyone responds differently to treatment regarding how long he or she get relief for. You can get relief that lasts a few hours, days to a few weeks. Persistent treatment can help increase the duration of after treatment benefit.
Any last words of advice for dancer teachers and dance students interested in acupuncture treatment? I recommend both teachers and students try acupuncture just once to see how their body responds to it. If you don't have a referral for a licensed acupuncturist you can find one on the website www.acufinder.com. You can see different practitioners in your area and see their specialization. For dancers I recommend seeing someone who specializes in sports injuries.
Erika Weber is a New York State licensed Acupuncturist, and a Nationally Board Certified NCCAOM Diplomat. She was trained at Tri-State College of Acupuncture, the only college training in Acupuncture Physical Medicine, Kiiko Matsumoto Style Acupuncture, and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Before becoming an LAc, Erika was in several touring companies in the US and Abroad for shows such as Fame and Guys and Dolls. Her acupuncture practice is informed with over 20 years of using and understanding the body through dance. Erika's practice, 16th Street Acupuncture, is located in the Gramercy district of Manhattan, New York. Residents of New York have had the opportunity to hear Erika's advice on holistic healthcare treatments during several visits to local CBS morning show The Couch which are also available for viewing online through her website at www.16thstreetacupuncture.com