Mindset

My 2022 180: Frayed Hip Labrum

It’s unusual that today I am trying to move as little as possible, as I have a serious hip problem. I have been having pain in my hip off and on since early spring, until it got to a point where it was constant – whether walking, standing, sleeping, you name it. I thought maybe I was doing too much on my legs – all the ballet classes, cycling classes on the Peloton and leg days (trying to grow the glutes here!). Perhaps just some hip tendinitis. But, no matter how I adjusted my training schedule the pain persisted and grew. It would be unbearable – especially after ballet and oftentimes during a long Peloton ride.

I finally submitted to scheduling an appt with a doctor and was able to get in last Monday last minute with Dr. Sophia Lal (a sports medicine doctor who also helped me with a wrist injury 4 ish years ago who is also a serious athlete and Ironwoman). I saw Dr. Lal Monday, got my MRI scheduled Wednesday of the same week, and saw Dr. Lal again Friday to review the results. I had been preparing for this moment and this news for two weeks. I had a frayed hip labrum, early onset arthritis (due to the injured labrum) and a few cysts in my hip. Turns out the head of my femur is not smooth/round as it should be, it has more of an edge to it, so anytime I lift my leg specifically to the side it has been rubbing and aggravating the labrum (the cartilage that allows the femur to move about in the pelvis). All of the years of ballet certainly led me to this moment at age 34.

Visual of my problem
Years of this movement explain my current hip problem

Not surprised by the news, but devastated nonetheless, I knew from that moment going forward I would never do ballet again. Not the same as I was doing it, at least (to me, if I cannot do it “full out” it’s essentially not doing ballet). It will be very hard to do class again because the simple act of turning my legs out in fifth position is unbearable. Ballet is ALL TURNOUT…this injury is very common in ballet dancers because of the extreme range of motion we have as well as the repetitive nature of the sport. As I said, I fully expected this news – I had a tiny flame of hope that it would not be my labrum but the pain I was having and my symptoms said otherwise.

MRI Results

As many of you know I grew up doing ballet from age 5 – college, but Junior year I had an injury to my right metatarsal. From there I decided not to pursue dancing professionally. I was burned out and exhausted (mentally and physically). I took about ten years off (aside from teaching here and there) and started taking classes again February 2020. Then Covid hit, so I was forced to take the remainder of the year off. January 2021 I decided to start back yet again as a personal challenge! I loved it so much for both my body and mind, and of course the challenge to see how “good” I could get again after such a hiatus. I am extremely driven by challenges and self-competition. And once I decide to do something, I am 100% ALL IN. This, of course, meant I was giving myself barre at home 1-2x weekly in addition to taking twice weekly at Alabama Ballet. That is a lot of ballet after taking ten years off! I never really thought about damage to my hips at all – I was more concerned with my right bunion hurting to be honest! HA! Looking back, that would be such a simple thing to overcome instead!

Anyway, my last ballet class was the Saturday before July 4th. My hip was hurting so badly for two days after class, I knew something was seriously wrong. The pain felt so deep, and I could barely stand up for 10 minutes without throbbing pain in the joint. Now, the goal for the next 4-8 weeks is physical therapy, no ballet, no lower body exercises (aside from PT-type work), no peloton, limiting my long walks, etc. I will also get a steroid injection in the area next week. I was planning and hoping to audition for the Magic City Nutcracker (community cast, so anyone in the area can audition) which are August 13th, but, of course that is now out of the question. I have come to terms with this and yes, had a little cry about it too to get it out of my system.

As sad as it is that all the hard work I have put in over the last year and a half can’t be rewarded with a fun performance weekend of the Nutcracker, I don’t regret anything. After all, I did not start back ballet with the hope of getting on stage. I started back just for fun! I do not regret any classes I paid for, time I spent, or pointe shoes I purchased. I learned so much about myself in this last year and a half. I grew mentally and physically. I pushed my limits. I was able to get my body back in very good ballet shape, all things considered. I was starting to do pointe again – and was at a place where I could do double and often triple pirouettes! I didn’t have pain in my toes being en pointe (the first time I put them on after ten years they felt incredibly foreign and seriously painful). It was fascinating to watch my body adapt, and muscle memory return after so many years away from ballet class. Now, I won’t even attempt a ballet class until probably January 2023. Even then, I will not be able to lift my right leg high to the side and I am still unsure if I will be able to do a class at all. Most dancers I know that had this problem ended up completely ending their careers. It’s that serious!

Going forward I am trying to adapt and adjust my workouts. I am cleared for all upper body, of course! I can do a lot of core, but, not all core exercises as anything that requires too much flexion of the knee/hip causes pain. My goal is to get as strong as I safely can with my upper body though — I am a Capricorn after all! Oftentimes when we are stressed we tend to work even harder! I am doing a total 180 – before, I was doing SO MUCH LOWER BODY…and now I am focusing solely on upper strength. But HEY – I have to do SOMETHING! I will not sit around and let my body whither away in the next 5-6 months. I will do my best to preserve the muscle I have in my legs (hello high protein diet + creatine daily), and build strength in my upper. Eventually I will be able to get back to regular lower body training (e.g., squats, lunges, full range Bulgarian split squats; that is the hope).

It’s funny when you have to give something up that you love. All athletes experience this at some point in their lives. I never thought I would have to give up ballet though, there are ladies of all ages in my ballet classes! I figured I would be one of them…but I certainly can’t be as serious about my technique or take class as frequently if I am able to ever take class again. If it means I will live with hip pain then that is not worth it. I just want to be out of pain and to be able to take long walks, and get on my Peloton and train legs again without feeling aching, throbbing pain in my joint.

It is interesting the things life will throw at us – none of us are immune from life’s challenges and tests. It is how we react and respond to these tests that will make or break us. I am choosing to become resilient and somehow find the positive in my situation! As Michelle Obama once said “grief and resilience happen at the same time”. And I will now be able to help other women or dancers who experience this injury. Any injury I experience allows me to develop a training plan around it – to overcome and persevere. At the end of each day be grateful for what you do have and the things you CAN do and take it one day at a time. Stay tuned for some AWESOME upper body workout posts as well as WHAT NOT TO DO…AND WHAT TO DO with a hip labral injury.

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