"Dancing is fun...it's so great that you get to dance for a living...what a fun and great way to live!" Yes, you are certainly right, but that's not the whole story. Let's just put it this way, it's what most consider a "fun" job with (as of last Friday) a side of a torn tendon right off my 4th finger! "Oops" I just ripped the tendon off my finger and now "ouch" it really hurts.
So what's the recovery you ask? 12 weeks in a splint that I cannot remove unless I want to purposely ruin the entire healing process and be forced to start my 12 weeks all over again!!!
Behind the outside eye's glamour of dancing all day, there is a hidden, understandable side of this profession that comes with a great deal of work and pain. In the 26 years I have been dancing, I have collected an orthopedist's textbook of injuries (lucky for the doctor, not for me!). I've had a hernia that required serious surgery, herniated disks, broken knees, twisted ankles, broken ribs and fingers. The list goes on and on. Every injury is different, with a different recovery time, different limitations in my day to day, etc. Yet every injury undeniably comes with a lot of pain.
It's not just the pain, but it's the frustration that comes with constant injuries. While most dancers will be stubborn about their aches and pains, and push through no matter the cost, you have to be smart about your injuries. What is so frustrating about injuries like this one, and the ones I have had in the past, is that you can never forget that ballet requires you to stay in shape. Any time off leads you to lose your technical abilities, your flexibility, and your strength. You work hard every single day to make gains and not lose what you have. Our bodies are our livelihood. For us, the most important thing is to be able to know our own bodies and understand when it is simply saying "no" and showing signs of fatigue and more.
The body of a ballet dancer (to use one of my favorite hobbies) is like that of a custom car. You take great care of it at all times. You take care of and pay such close attention to that one car (this one body). Any (even slight) change means something whether it is a soreness, pain, tightness, etc. It's all a reaction of what you are doing at the moment and maybe the habits you have accumulated over time. Let's say your left ankle is bothering you, but you ignore it. Suddenly your right hip and right knee are tight because you have been compensating for your left ankle and now you have even more problems to deal with. The body is connected, every muscle, joint, and tendon. From cell to tissue to organ.
So to get back to my finger. My latest injury is what is called a "mallet finger". Fortunately for me, my close friend, Alexis, is a second year medical student in Boston and so I can turn to her to explain this part of the blog. Sunday night before my appointment yesterday morning, she was able to assure me a bit that I would probably need to be splinted for several weeks, but it didn't look like I had done any major damage (major inflammation, swelling, etc).
So....mallet finger is most commonly seen in sports injuries. It occurs when the finger is in full extension and is forced into flexion, tearing the extensor tendon that runs along the back of your finger. Our hands are composed of balanced, opposing forces of flexion and extension (with palms up, the flexor muscles run along your forearm and their tendons insert onto the distal bones of your fingers allowing you to flex your fingers and make a fist; with palms down, the extensor muscles run along the arm and their tendons insert onto the distal bones of your fingers allowing you to extend your fingers straight out). You can easily see the tendons on the back of your hands as they run along your metacarpals and attach near your distal joint (that crease closest to your fingernail). When my finger was forced into flexion at the distal interphalangeal joint (DIPJ), it tore the extensor digitorum tendon to my 4th finger. Without the balance of the two tendons front and back, the unopposed flexor digitorum profundus (on my palm side) pulled my distal joint (top part of my finger) into unopposed flexion.
To make a long story short, I was lucky and only tore the tendon. With this type of injury, it was possible to fracture the bone or injure the joint (neither of which happened). They rarely recommend surgery for this type of injury because it is not a weight bearing joint and can heal on its own to full function with the proper treatment. Treatment for this injury includes splinting of the joint (so that it is in active extension) permanently for 12 weeks. So it looks like I'll have to get accustomed to this wonderful splint for 3 more months!!!
Send care packages my way! lol