Dealing With The Pole Injury Struggle

One thing most people don’t realize about pole dancing is how taxing it can be on the body. Anyone observing from the outside can see that it “requires a lot of upper body strength,” but it’s hard to comprehend what pole athletes actually go through to nail their tricks. Beyond bruises, broken skin, and sore muscles are torn rotator cuffs, pulled hamstrings, chronic back pain, and subluxated ribs (yes that’s a thing – damn you jade split), among many other weird injuries in places you didn’t even know existed. Pole is still a relatively infant fitness activity as far as “exposure to the masses” goes; it has only gone mainstream within the past few years and before that only a handful of individuals were practicing and pioneering pole as we know it today. As of now we don’t really have a good benchmark for the long-term effects of the stresses pole puts on the body. What’s worse is that pole moves are very unknown to those outside of the pole world making it hard to solicit an accurate diagnosis for the problem. To compare, running as a sport has been around for ages so when a runner comes in with a hamstring issue, it’s generally easy to pinpoint why it happened. For pole dancers, the best we can do is generally explain what we’ve been up to and hope it’s understood in relation to our injury.

I’ve had my rotator cuff tear for about a year and a half, though I got the official diagnosis via an MRI last October. My strength and range of motion is generally good and I’m able to do the things I want to do, but every couple of months the situation flares up and keeps me off the pole – very frustrating as you can imagine. I’d say for the most part it is my fault; I slack on my PT exercises, I over train, and I don’t rest between intense pole days as much as I should. I also have a strange back situation that I haven’t quite figured out yet (it involves strained muscles and a weird feeling in my shoulder blade), but a massage and acupuncture has kept that at bay for now.

In terms of my experience, I took 2-3 months off early this year because my body was in such a bad way and the harsh NY winter weather really took a toll on my joints and muscles. I went for a massage, acupuncture session, and started PT, and even though I continued to teach beginner pole classes I avoided anything that would aggravate my injuries. In the meantime I resumed taking dance classes at Broadway Dance Center, something I put on hold after I started pole, which turned out to be a huge blessing; I’ve been reminded of how much I enjoy moving like that and I’m feeling more inspired than ever to choreograph dance-infused pole routines.

I’ve since gotten back on the pole regularly and I’m feeling great. I do have some soreness in my shoulder every once in a while but as long as I rest as needed and continue my PT on non-pole days I’m relatively pain-free. I’ve also been careful to avoid anything that makes it worse and have cut down on the number of handsprings/deadlifts I do at a time (the one thing that seems to bother my shoulder the most). I’ve pretty much eliminated pressing up into twisted grip handsprings and although cup grip handsprings are my favorite, I keep those to a minimum as well. FYI, I’ve learned that having your shoulder internally rotated like you would in twisted and cup grip is one of the worst things you can do; in my case it caused a rub of the supraspinatus muscle on the bone that led to inflammation and pain. That’s not to say you can’t ever do them, but I recommend building up proper strength and form first and not overdoing it.

The Twisted Grip...your shoulder's worst nightmare
The Twisted Grip...your shoulder's worst nightmare

One thing I find really helpful is hearing that it’s not just you; sometimes it’s discouraging to see the best of the best constantly throwing incredible tricks without any trace of injury ever. How can she deadlift aerially and fonji so many times without a problem?! Obviously we don’t want to see anyone hurt, but hearing about the struggles of the pole greats we admire and their fight to overcome them, does make it feel like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel (and is a humble reminder that they’re human too!). As a pole community I feel we can really empower one another by talking about what we’re going through and sharing how we persevere through our pole journey.

The best advice I can give in the pole injury struggle is to listen to your body no matter what level of intensity your pain is, and back away from pole. I feel like the majority of serious pole dancers out there work through their pain, ignoring the root of the problem until it becomes a bigger issue. As hard as it is to stop poling for a period of time, I think it’s crucial, especially if you’ve been doing pole non-stop for a year or more. And that doesn’t mean you can’t do other things while you wait for your body to recover – there’s plenty out there to do that’s not so high-impact that will still benefit your pole progress.

Lastly, it is important to remember, the pole isn’t going anywhere; it will always be there, waiting for you to grace it with your greatness. Take care of yourself now and you’ll be poling for many years to come!