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Keeping performing artists in SHAPe

Ohio University’s performing artists enjoy benefits of tailored athletic trainers
Nov 13, 2017

You’ve seen them. An athlete at a sporting event goes down with an injury and they rush to their aid. They’re the athletic trainers, often the first line of treatment for athletes at almost every level of competition. But they aren’t just there for your typical mainstream athletics. Their expertise can also be applied to performing arts, a venture in which Ohio University is leading the way.

Jeff Russell, director of the Clinic for Science and Health in Artistc Performance (SHAPe), said he hopes the program being run at OHIO will be duplicated throughout the country, citing both a need and the SHAPe Clinic’s success.

In its fifth year, SHAPe is a partnership between the College of Health Sciences and Professions and the College of Fine Arts in which athletic trainers care exclusively for performing artists. From dance, music, theater production, theater performance and the marching band, Russell and a group of three graduate students who are licensed athletic trainers, along with a number of undergraduate athletic training students, provide treatment for a wide array of injuries that can be sustained by performing artists.

Specifically for the Marching 110, wherever the band goes, the athletic trainers go. That includes a performance on the grand stage of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York this month.

“There are a few other marching bands in the country that have athletic trainers taking care of them but there aren’t very many,” said Russell. “It’s a pretty rare thing we’re doing. I don’t think there’s any other university that has four athletic trainers working solely with performing artists.”

According to Russell, the principles of sports medicine and athletic training have been applied to a variety of environments with physically active people including industry, public safety, military and also performing arts.

“We’ve just taken what we know as athletic trainers and what we would do if we worked with athletic sports teams and simply applied it to performing artists,” Russell said. “Performing artists are so physically active that they are exposed to a lot of injuries but there’s also a lot of wellness factors we can help with.”

In addition to managing common injuries like a dancer spraining an ankle or a Marching 110 member injuring a knee or straining his or her back, these members of SHAPe also deal with factors such as nutrition, physical exercise and injury prevention.

“When these performers got to a bowl game every year with the football team, we have a nutrition guide for their 18-hour bus ride. How should they eat? What are some ways that are going to help them perform when they get off that bus?” said Russell. “Sometimes we’ll teach seminars such as core strengthening to the conducting class, nutritional seminars for the dance department or the oboe class will come in to the clinic and we’ll talk about posture. All of these things, we’ve injected into the arts,” said Russell.

Russell credits the level of commitment Ohio University has given to the program for its success.

“We have five different aspects of performing arts with about 700 performing artists at the University. We may have a greater commitment to performing arts medicine than any other university in the country when you consider the variety of arts we work with clinically alongside our educational offerings and our strong research focus,” he said.

The types of injuries these athletic trainers treat are both traumatic and chronic or overuse. In music, overuse injuries — those that are caused by repetitive actions — are seen most often. Theater students such as those who work in the costume shop, for example, can see injury from being hunched over a sewing machine for long periods. In dance and theater, Russell pointed out that concussions are more prevalent than what the general public may perceive. Overall, the various art forms each have their unique physical demands that can lead to a number of different types of injuries.

When asked about the feedback the program has received from the performers, Russell said, “They’re pleased as punch. They are so grateful for the attention and it’s a privilege to serve them.”

“Our program has grown but the basic philosophy hasn’t changed,” he added. “We provide compassionate care on site in the environment where the performers are. Patients come in day after day and are able to get assistance that is germane to them and customized to their participation in the performing arts.”

Russell is planning a new journal article that explains how to design and operate a facility like the SHAPe Clinic with the hopes that other universities across the country may be able to adopt such a program.