The Aging Dancer – A Three-Part Series

 

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photo credit: feedthebeauty.com

By Janine Bryant for The Dance Journal

The dancer-athlete is susceptible to the same wear and tear on the body as an athlete who participates in competition sport.  Dancers, like athletes, suffer from repetitive motion strains, sprains, ruptures and even concussions. Perhaps the greatest threat, though, to dancers and athletes alike, is the impact that the process of aging has on both hard and soft tissue. Aging effects ligaments, tendons and bones in specific ways that are parallel but independent.

Dancers know their bodies and often intuit what is happening to them!  The news, however,  is not all bad. Athletes and dancers are finding new technologies and fitness/conditioning techniques that may help delay the aging process.

For the next three blog posts, I will share information from my research on aging and the aging spine as well as findings from a recent global survey on dancers’ ages activities and spinal pain levels.  If you find some of this information helpful, please share these posts with your friends and colleagues.

When investigating the process of aging as well as how the spine ages, there were several significant subcategories, beyond the aging spine,  found in the literature. Among those specific to aging were aging and articular cartilage, aging and flexibility/range of motion (ROM), the aging of specific spinal regions (cervical, thoracic, lumbar), special considerations of the aging athlete, aging and osteoarthritis, aging and muscle strength, bone and aging, and the role of collagen in aging and ROM. Collagenous structural changes, regardless of type, cause degenerative effects in the mechanical properties of bone, tendons, ligaments and cartilage. The process of glycation can be particularly detrimental and will be discussed in the next blog post – stay tuned!

Aging affects intervertebral disks, endplates, facet joints, muscles and ligaments. This can lead to degenerative conditions such as disc degeneration, loss of bone mass, facet degeneration, bulging discs, and facet hypertrophy. Athletes, elderly and general populations experience these changes in various ways depending on age, activity level, and genetic disposition with the major commonality being compromised biomechanics and loss of range of motion to some degree.

Other disorders of the aging spine include disc and facet degeneration, facet and ligamentum flavum hypertrophy and loss of bone mass over time.  These conditions can be contributors to compromised biomechanics and ROM loss.

The process of aging affects all of the body systems including the spine. The literature links loss of bone density, and flexibility to increased risk for postural changes and disc fractures contributing to loss of range of motion and participation in activities of daily living. Quality of life is affected as aging populations experience decreased mobility due to age-related changes in spinal health. Information found, especially relating to collagen, points to physical and biochemical changes to collagenous frameworks with increased age results in decreased extensiblity especially in aging skeletal muscle. Aging bone in particular, showed an increased risk for development of osteoporosis thereby increasing the risk for stress fractures especially in older females.

Continued research into the process of spinal aging and how it affects range of motion and quality of life is needed. Specifically, research that focuses on the spinal segments, surrounding muscles, vertebrae and discs, in dancers and athletes, could result in more information enabling an increasingly aging population of both sport and artistic performers to benefit from findings. The overall goal being to promote spinal health and therapies to increase or maintain range of motion thereby allowing continued participation of activities for longer time periods and overall increased quality of life.

Next up:  What is glycation? and Dancers’ age,  activities and pain levels – a global survey.

Until next time, friends, dance healthy, strong and L O N G!

Janine Bryant
Assistant Professor of Dance and Kinesiology
Eastern University
St. David’s, Pa.
jbryant3@eastern.edu

References:

Hamerman D., Aging and the musculoskeletal system, Ann Rheum Dis. 1997 October; 56(10): 578–585.
Held, G. (2002). Research into the aging process: A survey North American Actuarial Journal, 6(3), 30.
Menard, D., & Stanish, W. D. (1989). The aging athlete. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 17(2), 187-196.
Papadakis M., Sapkas G., Papadopoulos E.C., Katonis P.,Pathophysiology and Biomechanics of the Aging Spine, Open Orthop J. 2011; 5: 335–342.
Zioupos, P., Currey, J.D., Hamer, A.J., (1999). The role of collagen in the declining mechanical properties of aging human and cortical bone. Journal of biomedical materials research. Vol. 45, pp. 108-16

About Janine Bryant

Janine Bryant, Senior Lecturer in Dance, Faculty of Performing Arts at University of Wolverhampton in The United Kingdom. She originally hails from Pennsylvania, USA and was the former Chair of Dance and Director of the Dance Program at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pa. There she taught courses for Dance, Biokinetics/Kinesiology at the Loeb School of Education, as well as at the Campolo College of Graduate and Professional Studies. She has been teaching technique and choreographing classical and contemporary ballets for more than twenty years.

Janine received her B.F.A. in Modern Dance from the University of the Arts in 1986. Janine is an active member of the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science and was recently added to their Peer Review Board, Poster Judging Committee and Education Committee. Janine also is a member of PAMA (Performing Arts Medicine Association) and is currently earning her PhD in Dance Medicine and Science from The University of Wolverhampton in the United Kingdom.

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2 Comments

  1. Hi, Denise!

    There are many of us out there! I will be 50 in November and my co-worker and other full-time dance faculty colleague is 55. I know two department chairs at uni’s in the area who are in their 60’s.

    I would love to speak with you more about your plantar fasciitis, as I was recently cured of mine with a non-invasive technique. Feel free to email me directly – jbryant3@eastern.edu

    My research is focused on aging and my goal is to help dancers by providing as much information as possible!

    Be well,
    Janine

  2. Thank you so much for this! I am a 41 year old dancer who runs the dance program at an arts high school in Philadelphia school district. I’ve really been struggling with my aging body…. Rom is still good, spine rom not so good anymore, but what has been the absolute worst is a terrible case of plantar faciatus after my second born……any suggestions…honestly it’s just so nice to hear someone talk about this subject☺️

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