Flexibility is something every dancer looks to increase, and stretching is often how it is achieved. Static stretching to be more specific. While this is most definitely a large component to any flexibility program, I have recently learned about other components that are constantly overlooked.
Facial Tension and Neural Mobility.
Lisa Howell, a dance physiotherapist in Australia, has created a program called "Front Splits Fast". When I first glanced at the title, I'll admit, I was skeptical. In my experience, nothing worthwhile ever happens fast. It sounded more like the title you might see for a weight loss program. Despite my skepticism, I know Lisa Howell's work and I respect her for the work she has done with dancers, so I took a further look.
Surprise surprise, I learned something new.
One component I hadn't really ever taken into much consideration was fascial tension. Sure I knew the benefit or using rollers to help relieve facial tension in a particular area, but I never put a lot of thought into fascia as a system. It was silly of me of course, the entire body is a machine that requires every component to work. A painful toe, can cause altered movement mechanics which can lead to problems much farther up the movement chain. That's no big secret, so why would the body's fascia be any different? It does cover the ENTIRE muscular and skeletal system, connecting not only muscle and bone, but internal organs as well.
Just like a sore toe can cause hip and back problem, tight traps and neck can cause tension in that can restrict the hamstrings. This fascial tensions is not the sole contributor of this issue, neural mobility also plays its role.
Neural Mobility is exactly what it sounds like, ability of the nerves to move. Just as the fascia covers the body, nerves run through every aspect of the body. Not every nerve is made equally. Some are infinitesimally small and some are closer to the size of string or rope. As your body moves, the organs and muscles slide around these nerves. If a particular area is restricted, this sliding can't take place creating a sensation of "tightness" limiting one's flexibility.
This all sounds great in theory, but it's quite something to witness first hand. I was working with a young dancer who was quite frustrated that no matter how frequently she stretched, she wasn't gaining any more flexibility. A collegue pointed me toward Lisa's program. For our next session I decided to try some sub-occipital release and upper trap release. With just about 3-5 minutes of release work her hamstring flexibility improved immediately. After seeing the results, I started asking some questions and discovered that this young dancer also suffered from frequent tension headaches. I had been so focused on her lower body strength and flexibility, I hadn't really taken the time to analyze how she held her upper body. It was clear that her upper traps dominated her shoulder movement and unequally at that. I mentally chastised myself, as I should not have had such a tunnel vision approach when working with her, I know better than that.
I'm getting off topic, so I'll come back and tie it all together. Every young dancer strives for more flexibility, and by no means am I saying that stretching is unnecessary. I'm simply saying it's not the only component. No dancer is the same, and this will not be the solution for every dancer struggling with their flexibility, but it may help some. Below I have linked to Lisa Howell's page, who for any dancer, is a great source of information.
CarliAnn & Ella