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My daughter and her friend were stretching each other the other day and some of it looked a little crazy. Should they stretch each other? Can they do any damage?

Many girls try and help each other stretch out, and will sometimes try things that they have seen on exercise videos or in other classes. However, I would definitely discourage them from doing so as it is risky to be stretched by someone else, even a trained professional. This is especially true when girls are growing, and their growth plates are active. If someone else is applying the stretch, the chance of injury increases. This is because by the time the person being stretched feels that the stretch is going too far, and says something, the stretcher must hear this and then modify their position, by which time it may already be too late for the muscle in question. Many muscles, for example, the ‘hamstrings’ down the back of the legs (that they stretch trying to get deeper into the splits), actually attach onto a delicate piece of the pelvis around the sitting bones. When students are having a period of growth, there is increased activity in the bone at the point where the hamstrings attach and the attachment point becomes a little weaker. If the muscle is stretched too strongly, especially if this is done at speed and the muscle contracts as a reflex to protect itself, the muscle may tear where it attaches onto the bone, and this can take a long time to heal. In some cases a small piece of bone may actually pull off the pelvis. This is called an “Avulsion Fracture” and needs to be dealt with by a medical professional to avoid any long lasting restrictions.

When dancers are stretching, they must focus on taking things smoothly and slowly through range, and must not bounce at the end of stretches. They should focus on feeling any stretches in the middle of the muscle rather than at either end, especially in adolescence. Introducing the dancer to a gentle Yoga class that focuses on how to use the breath to assist stretches and control placement of the body can help some girls enormously, and I plan to produce a DVD of Yoga for dance students in the near future.

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