The more I am involved in pole the more I hear about people becoming injured, and the more I have been injured myself as my journey through pole progresses. Injury can be anything from a bruised knee to sprained wrists, to in rare cases have life changing implications on the pole dancer. We are all familiar to the devastating case of married mother of two Debbie Plowman, who as a result of a fall during a pole dancing lesson, has been left paralysed and dependent on a ventilator to breath, and which stands as a huge reminder to us of the huge dangers of pole dancing.
Whilst cases such as Debbie’s are extremely rare, and serious injuries in pole dancing are less common than in other sports such as football or rugby, I feel that it is important that pole dancers begin to take better care and precautions to ensure the safety of not only themselves but those around them. Pole dancing requires an extreme amount of physical demand, and we use muscles that we probably hadn’t ever really used before, we twist and bend and pull ourselves into unnatural positions and spin ourselves like crazy around a steel pole, so it is no wonder that we are liable to injury in this highly physical sport.
I am in no way a qualified professional in medicine, but through my personal experience, experiences of friends and through medical advice we have received, I have complied advisory guidelines for taking care during pole dancing. Some are very obvious, and most of them we are all guilty of not following, but hopefully by reminding ourselves of the positions we put ourselves in during pole dancing we can reduce the risk of injuries as a result of the sport we love so much.
Most of the time we want to just run on the pole, particularly if we have a limited amount of time such as during a class, but it is essential that a correct warm up followed out before getting on the pole! By warming up you are making the muscles more supple and relaxed meaning you are less likely to pull a muscle, which is a particular hazard during flexibility training. Also by raising your heart beat your body will be better prepared for a work out and you will have a more effective session. It can also help to reduce stiffness after a workout so there is no excuse not to get warm before jumping on the pole! Try to do it to your favourite song or make a warm up routine which you can do off the top of your head at the beginning of a pole session, and try to keep layers on whilst doing so to get you warmer quicker. A few years ago I was working on my flexibility and I was not warm enough to be practicing the splits, but stupidly I did. The result was a torn hamstring and months off from stretching and weeks away from the gym. It really set me behind in my flexibility and even now I have to be careful with that muscle as it is not as strong as it used to be. It really wasn’t worth skipping the warm up for.
–Make sure your skin is ready for pole:
We all know not to moisturise our legs or hands before pole, but it’s very rare that a women nowadays will be happy to have dry legs, particularly in summer. However the effect that such lotions can have on the slipperiness of the pole is substantial, and can make the pole dangerous for you to be on. Showering off any lotion for a class, and washing your hands before a lesson will not only mean you won’t be adding to the slipperiness of the pole but it will also reduce the risk of passing on germs to other pole users. And beware, even though you may be implementing shared pole courtesy by making sure you don’t have moisturiser on, other pole users may not. Do not be afraid to clean the pole before you use or quietly notify an instructor if you believe that another pole dancer has lotion on, it is not tattle telling, it is ensuring yours and others safety.
–Do not be afraid to ask for a spotter.
Even the most confident and professional of pole dancers need a little help now and then, particularly when trying a new move or something which they are not familiar with. A spotter should be giving you 100% of their attention whilst you are on the pole, and be there for when you need them. Not only can they be there if you need to come down, feel like you are going to fall or can’t get into position, but they are in a better position to be able to guide and advise you in ensuring that your placements are correct and that you have all your limbs in the right place! Buddy up or work in a group, and do not feel shy at asking for help. Instructors are there to ensure you are doing things safely and correct, they will not be irritated if you need help, that is what they are there for so make the most of them.
-Pole safety checks:
it is not uncommon for poles or pins or screws to become loose during use, especially during extended periods or with forceful use. Take a moment before you work on a pole, during and after to make sure that it is in a correct position and to make sure and all pins/screws are safely in. Tug and push the pole to make sure there is no give; it is much better to realize that it could come loose before you go on it than when you are trusting it to hold your weight as you spin and invert on it. The consequences of an unsafe pole could be disastrous, so check that everything is okay before trusting that the pole will be able to support you. Another key point is to make sure that your pole is in a safe position in the room, so that it is not too close to an object and is in a safe position on your ceiling. Not only could you cause damage to the ceiling or objects around you, but catching your foot mid spin on a piece of furniture can do a lot of damage. I was myself practicing in a small space before I ended up kicking the pole, it broke my little toe and was my first ever broken bone! It could have been avoided had I made sure that I realistically had enough room around me to be practicing.
-listen to your body:
We only have one body and it is vital that we look after it! I am so shocked to see the amount of pole dancers who train their body to the point of pain in the name of pole. Unfortunately unless you are an athlete constant training is not always beneficial to your body. Surprisingly it is possible to over train. Whilst we need push our bodies to see results there is such thing as doing too much. Symptoms of over training include – you are not seeing any benefits, your bones hurting and in some cases heart palpitations. It is due to not giving your body enough time to recover, excessive or inappropriate exercising for your body and demanding too much of your body. If you are concerned that you are over training or notice some of these symptoms makes sure you seek medical advice. What is the point in putting your body and time into such rigorous regimes if you aren’t going to get anything out of it and may be doing your body more damage than good. Sometimes less is more, and our bodies need time to rest and recover after exercise. When I first began to train at the gym I used to exert myself to the limit each time and attend as much as possible. I noticed that even hours after the gym my heart was racing, I couldn’t sleep and I was constantly tired. I found out about over training and reduced my exercise regime and quickly saw myself getting better and strong. For me the most worrying side effect of over training was the heart palpitations, and that it was due to working too hard at the gym hours before.
just as guilty as we all are for not warming up, we also tend to neglect the importance of cooling down. Cooling down allows the body to go back to its pre exercising state and encourages the body to recover. It is a key way to reduce soreness and stiffness after pole, and can reduce that pole pain you feel the day after a big pole session. A pole cool down needs to include the decrease of intensity to lower your heart rate and blood pressure, before stretching the muscles out. This will help increase your flexibility and relax the muscles, bringing them back to their pre exercise state. Cooling down is not just important for pole, but also at the gym. Make sure you leave some time at the end of your gym workout to cool down. Incorporating both a warm up and cool down into your regime will help your body be fully prepared for its workout and give it a better chance to recover afterwards. Since ensuring that I do both during my exercises both on and off the pole, I have noticed a significant reduction in my soreness the next day which allows me to actually be able to move my limbs instead of being so stiff I can’t do anything productive for 3 days after pole!
These are a few simple things you can do to try and reduce the risk of injury on the pole, but of course there are many more! But what should you do if despite your efforts you still find yourself being injured?
–seek medical advice:
without a professional personally evaluating your symptoms or injury you will not be able to get an accurate diagnosis! This particularly means do not go onto the internet and self diagnose yourself if you think that something isn’t right. They can get the correct treatment for you, give you tailored advice and put you in contact with specialists to help you. Sometimes we all think we know best, but when it comes to your body and injury it is best to leave it to the professional. Even if they say that it is only minor, or that it just has to heal on your own, it is much better to get it seen to than leave it and let it potentially get worst.
the last thing we want to hear is that we have to refrain from pole dancing or any form of exercising during an injury, no matter how short the time period, but it is crucial that you listen to the advice. Forcing your body back into exercise before it is ready to after any injury can do a lot of damage, and may result in you needing even more time to heal properly. After cracking my rib I was devastated to hear that I should stay away from pole and exercise for at least 3-4 months, I really thought I’d lose everything I’d worked so hard to achieve! For me the pain was too bad to try and do anything, but it was still very tempting to forget about the injury and try and push my body to do something it wasn’t ready for yet. But despite how eager you may be it is crucial to give your body time to rest and recover, and to take it slow and steady once you do go back. Take your time, be patient and your body will soon be on its way back to the condition that it was once before.
-learn from your mistakes:
sometimes it is hard to look back and criticise what you did that landed you with being injured but it is a important part of recovery and will help you avoid that situation again. If for example you were doing an advanced move which you probably weren’t strong enough to do yet, make sure that you avoid doing such a move again until you are strong enough, or if you were doing a move which you weren’t flexible enough to do, work on your flexibility and try it again once it improves. Preventing yourself from putting yourself in risk in the future is the best way to reduce the risk of injury, and by being able to reflect on your mistakes you will improve your understanding of yourself on the pole and how your body works.
There have also been many workshops, classes and qualifications available related to risk prevention, first aid and how to spot on a pole, all across the world. Proper education is a fantastic way to spread the message of safe pole dancing and injury prevention and is invaluable knowledge to have. Check out classes in your local area and get yourself educated.
As stated before, I am not a fitness or medical professional, but I have unfortunately suffered as the result of neglecting my safety on the pole and from not implementing ways to reduce injury to myself. From torn hamstrings, to broken toes and cracked ribs, pole dancing has given me a lot to think about in relation to how I treat my body and how I look after it. We only have one body and it’s the only one we will ever have, so look after it!