You are a dancer who had Covid illness or an exposure without symptoms.
Your goal is to make a return to the dance stage. What should you know and do to make as safe a comeback as possible?
Concerns about Covid in dancers
In many people who are exposed to Covid, there are no signs or symptoms of illness. For those who develop illness, there is a variety of symptoms that may include cough, elevated temperature, body aches, loss of taste/smell, fatigue, and chest pain. These symptoms maybe get better by themselves and last for just a few (2-3) days. In a smaller number of people, they may last longer or become so intense that hospital care may be needed.
Individuals who are exposed to Covid are recommended to quarantine at home for a minimum of 10 days. Those with symptoms are asked not to exercise until they are feeling better for at least 5 days (some mild fatigue or lasting loss of taste and smell is considered acceptable in allowing a return to exercise). If in quarantine due to exposure alone without development of symptoms, light exercise is allowed.
For most dancers, the time away from practice, strength training and performances is the biggest downside of exposure to Covid. These dancers need time to build up general fitness, strength and dance-specific movements before being able to return to the stage.
? KEY POINT: EASY FATIGUE IS SOMETHING TO TAKE SERIOUSLY- NOTIFY
YOUR MEDICAL TEAM IF YOU HAVE THIS AFTER COVID EXPOSURE
If there is any symptom that tends to stick around after Covid exposure, it is fatigue. We have seen patients that have had trouble walking across their apartment or doing basic schoolwork. This type of fatigue really gets a physician’s attention. Others are fine with regular life stuff but find themselves easy to tire when resuming exercise. This could be from that deconditioning, or perhaps from something more serious.
One of the most concerning challenges of Covid is the possibility of serious damage to the heart or lungs. Inflammation of the heart muscle, known as myocarditis, is a potentially life-threatening disease that can come after viral infections such as Covid.
Some of the first studies looking at Covid illness found an alarmingly high number of cases of myocarditis. While follow-up studies have thankfully showed a relatively lower number of identified myocarditis cases, the risk is still high enough to require additional evaluation before dancers return to practice, performances, and competition.
Inflammation of the small airways of the lungs, along with damage to other tissues, can also be a result of Covid exposure. This too can lead to easy fatigue as well as lasting cough and chest pressure. Dancers with previous lung issues, most namely asthma, might have more problems, including a worsening of asthma symptoms.
After Covid, get a medical evaluation before returning to dance. Once symptoms are fully or mostly gone, dancers should be evaluated by a medical provider and get written medical clearance before resuming any training, performance, or competition.
This is not just a formality for a team, company or school, but rather should be seen as an important opportunity to assess for lasting symptoms, the need for additional testing, and a sensible return plan.
The examination should be an in-person visit (telemedicine is not recommended) so that vital signs and a hands-on physical exam can take place. It is best to find a provider who has experience and the latest information in post-Covid return to dance evaluations.
Honesty is key during this evaluation. Don’t let the desire to get back to the dance stage silence any symptoms or concerns. Your immediate and long-term health are in play.
Make sure your medical professional is well aware of exactly when you first got sick or exposed, any/all symptoms that came up, and how things are currently doing. Report any past illnesses, such as heart issues, asthma, or diabetes that could have an effect on your recovery. The same goes for any medications that you used or are using.
In addition to the history and physical exam, additional testing may take place. Decisions to do additional testing are based on the number and length of Covid symptoms, longer-lasting fatigue, age/level of the dancer, and concerns found during the history and physical exam. The additional testing can include:
? Electrocardiogram (EKG) that looks at heart rate and shape/timing of the heart rhythm
? Troponin blood test (high in the event of heart muscle damage)
? Echocardiogram (ultrasound looking at size/shape of heart chambers, valves and blood
vessels, blood flow and pressures)
? Treadmill stress test that measures vitals and heart/lung function before and during
? Cardiac Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) that takes an in-depth look at heart anatomy and blood flow within the heart muscle
Step-by-step return to dance
Once the medical evaluation is completed, clearance is given not just to immediately resume full activity, but rather that clearance is given to start a stepwise progression back to the dance stage. This return is done in stages to allow for reconditioning and also to watch for signs or symptoms of concern that did not come up before starting exercise.
The stepwise return starts with lower-level conditioning and individual dance-specific skills before advancing to higher intensity activities, weight-training, and eventual group-based practices, performances, and competition. Each stage should be done at least once with a minimum 24-hour period between each stage.
This is another time when that full honesty is absolutely vital. If things don’t feel right,
especially that sense of easy fatigue, stop the progression and alert the medical team. Ideally, this return is watched over by a certified athletic trainer working with the team or company. The athletic trainer can adjust the intensity and speed of return stages, monitor for issues, and be an advocate for dancers in communication with instructors and other medical personnel.
Many dancers have found that using a heart rate monitor can assist in this return process. This may include wearable chest-based devices (probably the most accurate but more costly) or even watches that can detect the number of heartbeats per minute. Another monitoring option is using a Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale. The RPE goes from a dancer reported level of 1 (very easy exercise) to 10 (most demanding level of exercise). Dancers can compare the reported RPE to instructor estimates for a certain level of activity. If the dancer’s RPE is much higher (2 or more points) above the instructor estimate, then there should be an immediate re-evaluation of