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Performing arts medicine provides specialized care to artist-athletes

If you’ve ever been to a ballet, watched a comedian do a pratfall, or seen a stuntman dive through a plate glass window in your favorite western, what you may not realize is that you were looking at highly skilled, performing athletes. Dancers and other performing artists can experience the same kinds of physical injury as a linebacker, golfer, basketball forward, or hockey player.

Sometimes physicians and physical therapists may not understand the nature of this kind of work and the physical stress put on the body in its practice. But one program at Kettering Health Network can provide treatment especially suited to these patients, who have different therapeutic needs and unique range-of-motion requirements to be able to return to daily activity.

Carol Fisher is the coordinator of the Performing Arts Medicine program. When starting the program, Fisher set out to see that these “artist-athletes” have access to high-quality physical therapy and injury care. “They really are athletes,” she said. “They have the same types of physical risk of injury that any other athlete might experience.”

As a gymnast and dancer, Fisher experienced her first injury while in high school and ended up seeing many physical therapists. While this was in the late 1970s and early 80s, she said that, even today, healthcare providers rarely understand what dancers, gymnasts and performing artists really do. Fisher saw an entire group of patients that was either being overlooked or underserved because of a lack of knowledge, so she set out to change that.

Targeted physical therapy options

Fisher recognized that it was imperative for the physicians and therapists who treated these patients to have a clear understanding of the types of movements involved in dance and other physical performing arts. “Biomechanically, once you see movement of the dancing, you can help them,” she said. “We create programs that simulate what their needs would be.”

The Performing Arts Medicine Program has therapists trained in arts-specific equipment for the rehabilitation and performance enhancement of the patient. The program is available to any dancer, gymnast, cheerleader and other performing artist with an injury that requires treatment. Specialized care can make the difference between resuming their craft or ending it. Patients come from all over the region, including Dayton ballet, Wright State University dancers, and students from many of the dance studios around the Dayton area. The program has even treated older patients, into their 70s, like ballroom dancers.

In addition to traditional methods, therapists in the program also utilize other approaches including Pilates and gyrotonic expansion, which is a multidirectional, spiraling machine used to simulate the movements of a dancer. Fisher said the one-of-a-kind program is expanding, now available at several clinics within Kettering Health Network.

For more information about this program, visit the Kettering Health Network website or call (937) 395-3910 to make an appointment.