Let's Talk About Pain Blog

Dancing and Chronic Pain

Dance like no one is watching. It may ease your chronic hip and knee pain.

A few summers ago, my wife and I took tango lessons. At the time, our children were young and it was an excuse to have a night out.

We enjoyed the lessons, although I have to admit, we wouldn't have won any competitions, and no one ever asked us to demonstrate moves. Don’t even get me started on the grapevine step.

What surprised me most was how full the classes were. A lot of the dancers were, well, older. I admired them. Not only were they better than my wife and me, but they were actually out there dancing. The tango isn’t exactly easy on the joints.

Well, they may have had the right idea.

According to a recent small study at Saint Louis Medical Center, dancing may help hip and knee pain in older adults.

The study participants were mostly eighty year old women. Half of them danced up to twice a week for approximately 45 minutes, the other half didn’t dance at all. The type of dancing , Healthy Steps, is low impact aerobic activity that can be done sitting or standing. Researchers customized the steps to minimize lower limb pain.

After twelve weeks, the dancers reported less pain, walked faster, and reduced their use of pain medication by 39%. In contrast, the non dancing participants took 21% more medication.

This participant group was small and the dancing was supervised, so it’s unclear how much can be extrapolated from this study. But it was exercise and the participants said they had fun.

While I wouldn’t recommend tango lessons for those with chronic joint and knee pain, low impact dancing might be appropriate. If you have chronic pain, don't do any dancing without checking with your doctor. Definitely check with your doctor before doing any strenuous dancing.

And for those of you that are determined to learn the tango, be very, very, very careful when doing the grapevine step, otherwise one of you may end up, ahem, on the floor.

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