Katia Chupashko endured the rigors of learning Dana Tai Soon Burgess' new piece Charlie Chan and The Mystery of Love last year without hesitation. She had worked with Burgess, a Washington, DC, choreographer, many times. But the work's rigors, combined with all the repetition and emotion that go into preparing for a premiere, left Chupashko with a painful pulled calf muscle. "Setting a work is intense and unrelenting," remembers Chupashko. "Fatigue set in."
Whether it's sudden or cumulative, fatigue has proved the culprit in more dancer injuries than any other phenomenon. Studies show that injury rates go up at the end of a rehearsal session, the end of a day, and the end of a season. Fatigue cannot be easily explained as simple tiredness, nor is it synonymous with burnout, although that can be a factor. It's a complex physiological and psychological event, involving muscle use, stress hormones, and more. Fatigue builds over time, and each dancer experiences it differently. Knowing how to recognize it, and how to face "rest" straight on can be key to a dancer's performing longevity.
Chupashko learned the value of rest from taking time off just two weeks before Charlie Chan opened at Washington's Dance Place. "I needed to stop and think critically about what was happening to me," she says. After seeing her doctor, Chupashko opted for a combination of chiropractic, massage, and time off her feet. "It could have easily turned out another way had I pushed through," she says.
Most dancers wing it on adrenaline and caffeine, but the stats don't bode well for that approach. "Fatigue is a hot topic of research right now," says Marijeanne Liederbach, a physical therapist at Harkness Center for Dance Injuries in New York City. Liederbach has conducted studies looking at the correlation between fatigue and injury. In one, dancers who trained more intensively had an increase in the stress hormones epinephrine, norepinephrine, and catecholamine. These have been linked to numerous health issues from high blood pressure to immune system weakness.
Fatigue comes in two types: peripheral and central. The peripheral kind occurs locally when a muscle has exhausted its energy supply. "You might experience this after doing numerous jumps or any kind of high-velocity or repetitive movement," says Liederbach. "A quad just might give out. In most cases, it's temporary and simply resting will help."
Central fatigue is more global, …