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Ballet dancers masking pain to perform...

Have you ever taken Ibuprofen or Tylenol to get through a rough day of class? Rubbed Biofreeze all over your body to stop the pain? I have for sure but, that isn't always the best way to handle dance pain.

Unfortunately, I have witnesses in my childhood, teen, and adult dance years a plethora of teachers hanging out pain kills and anti-inflammatories to students who are complaining about pain. This gets dangerous for a few reasons.

  1. Dance teachers are not doctors or Pharmacists and should not be readily dispensing medicine without knowing a student's medical history and allergies.

  2. The student may not realize whether they are dealing with a true injury or just temporary soreness and pain.

  3. Pharmaceuticals such as Ibuprofen have now been proven to decrease healing time in soft tissue injuries and should be avoided unless prescribed by a medical professional. (Read more about new standards for soft tissue injuries here

So, when is it appropriate to mask pain and when is it not appropriate? No doubt, there have been times when a performance has required me to mask my pain and it has been in safe ways. So, it's distinguish between the rules I have set for my students safety.


If you have fallen or hurt yourself traumatically, this should be immediately evaluated by a professional. Masking the pain as a first line of defense may worsen an injury and lead to future chronic issues.

Unknown pain occurrence:

Let's say you're dancing and all of a sudden, your battements start to hurt your hip. I would call this unknown cause of injury/pain. Since it could be just a hiccup in the body and caused by sore muscles or overuse, it could just be a simple matter of lowering the leg or taking a small rest. The problem is though that if this is a more serious issue not addressed by a professional and the student takes pain killers to push through, damage could be permanent.

If you aren't sure whether you're sore or injured and the pain keeps occurring during class, it's best to notify your teacher immediately and sit out until you are assessed by a medical professional.

Even if it does end of being a soft tissue injury, it's safer for a dancer to modify her technique to decrease load on the injured area than perform at 100% capacity and mask the pain. The later can often result in chronic injuries that reoccur and will slow recovery.


Soreness is common in the field of dance and can result from new training patterns or overuse of muscles. Often times, soreness will disappear in 2-3 days and will not increase in pain or intensity. The pain felt as a result of soreness is dull, stiff, and achey but, never sharp or radiating. If you are 100% sure that you are just sore, then this would be an appropriate situation to use a topical anesthetic such as BioFreeze.

BioFreeze vs. Ibuprofen:

I prefer to recommend dancers to use topical pain killers because 1. It's not absorbed by the liver and will not cause systemic damage. 2. The topical pain killer wears off quicker and is not as powerful as systemic medications. The reason the low intensity is important is because if the area of pain becomes worse, the dancer then will be able to pull back his or her participation reducing the chance of further injury.

Ultimately, I believe in minor pain reduction masking if the site of pain will not be further injured by the dancer masking the pain. Chronic injuries such as arthritis is a common condition that may be alleviated by use of BioFreeze during class. I have personally used this on my feet before shows due to my MTP arthritis which I know this will not cause further damage.

If you have any concerns about your pain or use of pain killers, please contact your local physician or any sports medicine professional. Please do not take medical advice from dance instructors who are handing out pills to help you push through class.

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