Cross-country skiers who suffer from back pain may want to add dance to their training schedule.
Researchers in Sweden studied the effect of twelve weeks of dance training on skiers. Their results were published in the April issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The reported study, conducted by Dr. Suzanne Werner and M. Alricsson, was in response to previous studies which had found back problems to be prevalent among skiers. The back problems led to tension along with decreased flexibility and mobility. This, in turn, may lead to injury. The back pain and tightness in skiers may be caused by the repetitive motions of cross-country skiing and the constant flexing of the spine.
Twenty-six high school and college age skiers from across Sweden were involved in this study. All were elite athletes and in good physical health. Upon joining the study, all were given a survey in which they were asked questions about their health, including back pain. They were also measured for joint mobility and flexibility in their spines, hips, and ankles. Finally, they were put through functional tests, including a slalom-style run (side to side around obstacles) and a run in which they jumped over and crawled under hurdles.
Sixteen of the participants, including six who suffered from back pain, took six hours of dance training per week. The other ten, including three who complained of back pain, did not participate in the dance training.
Because the schedule during the training and competition season involves a rigorous training schedule and a great deal of travel, the study was limited to off-season months. All participants followed a standard training program, including roller skiing and running. The only major difference in physical exercise between the two groups of participants was the added dance training.
When the dance training portion of the study ended, each of the twenty-six participants was again measured for flexibility, put through the same functional tests, and asked to complete a survey about back pain.
Four of the six who had back pain and participated in dance training reported no back pain at the end of the study. None of the three with back pain who did not dance or those who began with no back pain before the study reported any change in their levels of back pain.
Researchers also found that the range of motion in the hips and spines of those who danced had increased significantly, while the flexibility in those who did not dance was diminished. "We believe that this was the result of the type of exercises used within the dance training programme, which was aimed at improving posture, flexibility, and coordination," the authors state in their report.
The participants did not improve in the functional tests, either slalom or hurdle. This could be because these are not typical moves for either skiers or dancers, or because their training did not focus on the skills needed during these tests.
Because the study was small, no definitive conclusions can be drawn from it. However, it seems that adding dance to a skier’s training schedule may help improve flexibility and decrease back pain.