Navigating Through Pain & Recovery

 In Career Guide

Sabine Raskin | @sabinezoe_ | Photo by: Emmett Reifenberg | Vancouver, Canada | December 2019 | 3 minute read

Hi everyone, 

I’m a Canadian based contemporary dancer and I’d like to share my experience of years of undiagnosed pain, frustration, surgery, and a whole lot of doubt. 

When I was sixteen, I started having sharp pains in the back of my ankle almost every moment of the day. A physiotherapist suspected Os Trigonum Syndrome which is a congenital condition where an extra bone develops behind the ankle bone. It’s common for dancers to be affected by this and can usually be fixed with minor surgery. But there was no extra bone visible in my x-rays. Had there been I would have gone ahead with treatment and surgery to remove it. 

(This x-ray shows what the Os Trigonum bone looks like.)

Over the next few years my pain only got worse – it got to the point where I really shouldn’t have been dancing. But ultrasounds and more x-rays conveyed that nothing was wrong. So, I started to get prolotherapy which is a series of dextrose solution injections into injured soft tissue to try to trigger a healing response. Because none of my pain was alleviated, I knew that was not what my body needed. Physio exercises were not helpful either because any movement at all just brought more pain. I knew there was something wrong but any attempt at fixing it felt like I was making it worse. 

So, I danced through pain that I really should not have danced through. I hurt myself way more than I should have. To deal with it I made myself numb. Physically and emotionally I shut down to get the work done. It’s so sad that seeming unaffected by things when you’re young, and keeping calm and pleasant when you’re suffering, is viewed as emotional maturity. I started hating the parts of my body that were in pain and hating parts of dance because it was painful. As dancers there is so much focus on taking care of ourselves but often our environment doesn’t let us take care at all. Unfortunately, we often feel like it’s our fault when we are in pain and also feel like we’ll be viewed as lazy if we take too long to recover. 

After years of navigating all of this, an MRI was ordered on my ankle for further diagnostic investigation. It was finally discovered that I did indeed have Os Trigonum Syndrome. When I finally had surgery, it was more extensive than the doctors initially thought it needed to be. I had been dancing in pain for so long that the extra bone had caused more problems. A tendon needed to be released from friction with the bone and there was years’ worth of bruising on the base of my tibia. Going into surgery I was told I’d be dancing in six weeks. I ended up needing to take a year completely off. Even though I had a wonderfully supportive recovery team the feeling that I was letting people down was always there. 

One thing that I now know is that recovering from something rapidly doesn’t make you strong or impressive. From my experience, having timelines for yourself when recovering from anything in your life can just add more stress and feelings of helplessness. Bodies will get better. They can heal, that’s what they are made to do on a cellular level. But they also need the right environment to heal and as much time as they need to take. I personally don’t believe that dance is more important than the well-being of my body or my feelings, but I used to.

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