Injured? ATCs and PTs Are Here To Help You

Hey all! Keats back again to chat with you about self care and how to get it. First off, no matter what part of the performing arts industry you’re in (TV, Musical Theater, Concert Dance, etc), at some point you have most likely gotten hurt and worked yourself through an injury. But let me tell you - and I’m gonna shout it for the people in the back - “YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO IT ALONE!” That’s right, there are tons of dedicated health care professionals called Physical Therapists (PTs) and Athletic Trainers (ATCs) at the ready to help you get through the rough parts of being injured or keeping your body from getting injured.

Now, if you’ve never heard of PTs and ATs, don’t stress! This is a judgement free, safe place to learn...but please do yourself a favor and read on. This month is actually National Athletic Training Month, so we wanted to show these amazing health care professionals some love! Though they are different, the two titles do a lot of the same great work to get you back on your box (pointe joke). Both are highly trained medical professionals, who have years of schooling; most Athletic Trainers have Master’s Degrees, and Physical Therapists have doctorates. Both have licenses that are regulated at the state level (except for CA, which doesn’t have any state-wide regulations for ATs). However, they may end up working on you for different reasons. In my experience, ATs are often the first responder to an injury, and have assisted me with quick fixes, helping me get back into the show (I almost said game and thought, why am I making sports references to a bunch of fellow dancers??). They can tape an ankle like a champ, do some body work to release some pain and definitely know every way to use Kinesio Tape. They can even set you up with some exercises to make sure you’re warm and ready for the work you’re about to do, and aid in injury prevention.

ATs and PTs can tape an ankle like a champ
ATs and PTs can tape an ankle like a champ

A Physical Therapist regularly helps you with long term injuries. They can diagnose a problem, or request and read imaging results from an X-Ray or an MRI. You’ll definitely be seeing one if you ever have to go through a surgical procedure, but they can also help mitigate chronic pain. Like if - for example - you pulled your hamstring six months ago and still aren’t able to get that leg up and Rockette auditions are approaching. Or, in my case, when my lower back was sending flashing pain every time I bent too extremely forward or backward. My PT read my imaging results and then was able to build a program of exercises and body manipulation techniques to get me back to dancing full out and pain free.

Major entertainment companies like Disney, Cirque du Soleil, Radio City Music Hall and most Broadways shows, especially ones with heavy dancing, have figured out that having an AT or PT on staff at the show keeps injuries more manageable and their performers healthier. Radio City Music Hall has an ATC facility run by Elaine Winslow-Redmond, who put herself through school while performing while being a Rockette. She started helping her dancing sisters out, and has now grown it into a full time healing winter wonderland with multiple ATs and PTs and all the accoutrement you could ever hope for (including massage chairs). Many Broadway and professional national tours have an AT or PT that travel along with the show.

Treat yourself like you matter - because you do!

So where do you go if you’re not performing in a show with a healthcare pro on staff? Glad you asked. There are many places, and probably some in your area; most take insurance and a lot of them deal with workers comp claims. Neurosport is probably the most widely known, and have locations all over the nation - so there’s probably one near you! For NYC specifically, they work with many a Broadway show, and many of their staff have traveled . In my experience, because demand in NYC is so high, they usually double up the hour session and physically work on one client while the other is doing their exercises and then swap. It’s nice to have someone watch you go through your work to make sure you’re doing it right. Physioarts is another place of note for PT; they offer 30 minute individual sessions. This means more one-on-one time, which is always a plus for me (who unfortunately craves teacher approval). Also for my New Yorkers, let’s not forget the wonderful work the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries is doing for dancers in the city - and they can provide financial assistance. On their website it literally says, “No professional dancer or pre-professional dance student will be turned away due to an inability to pay.” So to all my dance friends who are in the struggle of working too many jobs and for too many choreographers and don’t feel like they can afford some body work… yes you can! Go take care of yourself!

A PT regularly helps you with long term injuries
A PT regularly helps you with long term injuries

Speaking of assistance in the dance world, have you heard of the Actor’s Fund? Well, here’s the must-know info on them. They are an organization dedicated to helping out anyone in the entertainment business - wherever you are - by providing access to and aiding in navigating medical and mental health fields. From radio hosts to concert dancers, they have your best interest at heart. I have had many friends use them when they have gotten injured and needed some guidance, or financial assistance. Most recently I had a friend, Josh Cotham, who destroyed his elbow mid audition. They helped him navigate the medical billing system and provided him with group therapy to make sure he was mentally coping with the challenges of his injury, and not just physically healing. That’s major! They are here to help, so don’t feel like you are alone when you’re injured.

Now that you know what help is out there and some jumping off places of where to get it, I wanna share a little about one of my favorite Physical Therapists. His name is Dustin Jesberger, and if you’re ever in Chicago, IL and need to not only be fixed but want someone who knows about the biz and also sincerely cares about you, then he is your man! Honestly, he’s the man! After watching his dad go through extensive physical therapy, he decided to give up the performing side of his career and went to the University of Illinois, Chicago to get his graduate degrees. Jesberger currently works for NeuroSport, Chicago; he got the job by not only being perfectly qualified but also having a love for theater, people, and theater people.

having an AT or PT on staff [...] keeps injuries more manageable and [...] performers healthier

His humor also makes for impeccable bedside manner. He has a couple thoughts on how to get the most out of your session with a PT or AT. “Be on time. Give feedback. Be specific. If I am asking someone a question about a procedure… the feedback helps me alter or adjust…  And do your exercises in-between session. Think of the exercises as rehearsal for your body’s performance.”  He also has some tips on how to communicate during your session. “[Saying] ‘that hurts,’ is ok but if you can say ‘That hurts right outside of my knee and feels like a deep ache pain’ I have a much better idea of how I can help.” He also mentions that it's fine if something isn’t working or hurts. Just say so! It’s your session and you have to be willing to communicate to get what you need from it.

Remember, you never have to suffer alone or in silence. If you are lucky enough to have an Athletic Trainer or Physical Therapist at work, pay them a visit. If you don’t and you need them, there is always a way to get some body work. As dancers, our body is our tool and we only get one. We don’t get to change out a muscle when it tears. Well, maybe a knee but that’s not such an easy process. So treat yourself like you matter-  because you do! Now go take care of yourself. You deserve it.

About the author

A competitive dancer for ten years, Keats then made the leap (probably a switch second) to college and after earning a BFA in performance dance from the University of California, Irvine, he made the jump (Sauter de chat for sure this time) from working as a parade performer for the Disney corporation to dancing on cruise ships. After a year at sea, he taught as a guest artist in residence for a semester at Colorado Mesa University. Since moving to New York, Keats has been fortunate to work regionally (Pioneer Theater/ Sacramento Music Circus/ Alabama Shakespeare Festival/ La Jolla Playhouse) as well as performing in New York with Radio City's Christmas Spectacular (fittingly as the Sugar Plum Fairy Bear) and on Broadway in Escape to Margaritaville and Cirque Du Soleil's Paramour. He is a passionate, full out dancer who enjoys cultivating an entertaining life in NYC.