A joint effort: Understanding what’s good for your joints

Discover the latest developments in research into protecting and treating your joints in a discussion with leading experts from La Trobe University and The Australian Ballet.

Many factors impact the health of our joints during our lives, with some people developing joint pain and conditions like osteoarthritis. There are many schools of thought on how to effectively treat joint conditions, however, one of the most promising preventative and management strategies is physical activity.

The broadcast, A joint effort: Understanding what’s good for your joints, brought together the leading experts of La Trobe University and The Australian Ballet to share the valuable insights they have uncovered into traditional and emerging options for treating and protecting joints. The Australian Ballet’s Principal Dancer, Amber Scott provided the athlete’s perspective on the impact of the research.

Panellists included

  • renowned sports medicine researcher Professor Jill Cook
  • Dr Sue Mayes AM, Director of Artistic Health at The Australian Ballet, and
  • Professor Kay Crossley, Director of La Trobe’s Sport and Exercise Medicine Research Centre (LASEM)

Is imaging important to help inform practitioners about what's going on in the joint and develop a plan to improve pain etc.?

Scans and X-rays are not able to indicate which, if any, of the imaging findings are linked to the person's clinical condition, e.g. pain, stiffness or swelling. Practitioners typically use the patient history and presentation and assessment of the joint to guide management . Imaging is important in ruling out serious pathology, e.g. fracture and can guide diagnosis.

Are the strengthening exercises tailored to each dancer or are they given a generic set?

All dancers are tested each year, and a general company program is modified to each dancer’s level of ability at a given time. Progressions of the core set of exercises are tailored to the individual dancer as they progress through their career. Specific strength training programs might be instigated if a group of dancers are soon to perform a repertoire that requires specific strength. Programs are tailored if a dancer is in rehabilitation from injury.

What about hips and other forms of dance? Are there similar findings?

Great question – but the research is not available to answer it yet. It is possible (and likely) that there might be differences based on levels of dance skill and between genres of dance.

Is there a paper that outlines the prevention/rehab programs the Australian Ballet uses?

You can find the Australian Ballet Injury Management and Prevention Handbook on the website.

Any must-do exercises for dancers and their hips? Do you still give clam or more functional exercises, e.g. monster walks?

Please refer to videos of the typical hip strengthening exercises used at The Australian Ballet.

I'm a physio and a dance coach. I find it difficult to balance the need for strength and flexibility in my young dancers plus the desire for the dancers themselves to increase their flexibility at a rapid rate. What advice would you give in relation to balancing the two while reducing risk of hip injuries and keeping their longevity in mind also.

Please see the article by Sue Mayes on The Australian Ballet website.

Running and knees – are you better to regularly run a little? Can you get away with short sharp periods of heavy load in prep for competition and build stability?

We don’t know the optimal dose of running for people with or at risk of osteoarthritis. Ideally you would start with a small amount (volume and intensity) of running, and gradually increase the amount of running over time. Getting and keeping strong muscles is also important. Use pain and swelling as a guide to when to increase your running.

Could osteoarthritis be related to stress in workplace or family or in the community with people?

This is a great question. Yes, stress and other triggers can exacerbate the symptoms of osteoarthritis. Looking after yourself, both mentally and physically, is important.

What is the best way to undertake resistance training? Should you do it with a physio or just in a gym? Or at home without professional supervision?

It will depend on the aims of your training and your own personal situation. You may not feel you have the knowledge and would like supervision, and then supervision at a gym or clinic would be useful. If you are experiencing pain or rehabilitating from injury then it is recommended at least to seek advice intermittently from a physiotherapist, but you may be able to exercise at home. If your aim is to develop large amounts of strength, you may need to visit a gym or physiotherapy clinic that has weights machines heavy enough to achieve your goals.

How does ballet differ from other high-performance sports in elite athletes in regard to the offset of arthritis in the joints?

In our research we found that the prevalence of imaging findings associated with hip osteoarthritis was similar in dancers and other elite athletes involved in non-contact sports and dancers do not appear to be at greater risk of developing arthritis of the hip. We are investigating the prevalence of arthritis in other lower joints through the partnership between La Trobe and The Australian Ballet.

Would you say that runners should be doing at least 25 calf rises on each leg too?

Yes, maybe not straight away – but this would be a great goal.

Discover our partnership's experts

Our partnership brings together La Trobe University’s sports and exercise medicine researchers with The Australian Ballet’s internationally respected injury prevention and rehabilitation team.