Dance Bag Essentials: Dancers’ favorite tools for muscle soreness and recovery

Ever experienced the pain of being so sore after an excruciatingly long day of classes, rehearsals, or performances, that it’s almost impossible to even get out of bed the next day?

Maybe you lunged a little too low, a few too many times in a contemporary rehearsal. Perhaps you had a day of on again, off again dancing, causing your muscles to get cold in between each rehearsal.

Maybe all it took was an outreach performance on an unsprung, hard floor to make all your muscles tighten up. No matter how it happened, we’ve all searched through our dance bags (or our friends’) for that perfect tool to relieve the pain, especially for those hard to reach muscles.

Well, search no more! We’ve asked some professional dancers which tools are their favorites to relieve achy muscles and prevent soreness during and after long rehearsal days.

One of the most universally popular tools to massage achy muscles is a handy, dandy lacrosse ball. “I use mine mostly for my feet, knots in my calves, and behind my knees,” says Ashley Conroy, dancer with St. Louis Ballet. Harder and more dense than a tennis ball, a lacrosse ball is perfect for dancers’ strong muscles that need a little extra pressure. 

“I also like to stand with a ball or piece of PVC that’s about an inch in diameter underneath the outside of my foot where my arch meets my heel. I do plies like this with as much weight as I can take, and it helps to adjust the position of my cuboid and calcaneus, as well as realign the bones in my feet when things get locked up- a total lifesaver when the hours spent in pointe shoes increase!” 

In addition to a lacrosse ball, Conroy adds that she frequently uses a Tune Up Therapy Ball which is slightly larger and somewhat softer. “I love laying on it under my stomach to release my psoas- something physical therapists taught me. It really helps with my hips’ mobility and alignment.” And at the end of a long day? Yogatoes! “I wear them around my apartment; giving my metatarsals that extra space has really helped my feet with repair and injury prevention!”

Kansas City Ballet dancer, Heather Nichols also uses a lacrosse ball to dig into her calf muscles and any knots she may have, but her absolute favorite tool in her dance bag is the TheraBand Foot Roller for her sore feet.  “Of course, a foam roller is good, but the other two are my go-to’s!”  

*Pro Tip: When it’s not in your dance bag, keep the TheraBand Foot Roller in the fridge or freezer for extra relief and anti-inflammatory benefits!

Another massage ball alternative is Alabama Ballet dancer, Caitlin McAvoy’s favorite, the Pro-Tec Athletics Orb and Orb Mini.  “They are textured, firm without being too hard, and the perfect sizes for specific muscles.  The large one is great for your butt, hamstrings, and quads, while the small one works well on your calves.”  Outside of the realm of conventional rollers and balls, Caitlin also uses another device called, The Hypervolt. The Hypervolt is a quiet, cordless percussion massage device that relaxes and soothes muscles. “I love it on my IT bands; it’s the only thing that really works for me.”

Morgan Sicklick, dancer with Denver based dance company, Wonderbound, can’t live without two things: her spiky green massage ball (similar to the Pro-Tec Orb) and Doterra Deep Blue Rub. “The spiky ball is perfect for massaging my calves, glutes, and lower back when things are feeling tight.  The spikes stimulate the muscles but are soft enough to allow my body to relax while using it. The Doterra Deep Blue Rub I just discovered last year, and it’s amazing. It’s a very natural product with lots of essential oils; it warms up muscles that are hurting and also helps to bring heat to my entire body which is great for cold winter days!”

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