Can Dancing Ease Your Pain?
If music calms the savage beast, perhaps dancing shakes away the monster of pain. One lady, suffering from fibromyalgia and joining my Zumba Fitness class twice a week, tells me this. Mostly she was unmotivated to leave her house but after the insistence of a good friend to try the class, she did. To her surprise she felt good afterwards and now she has a regular spot and smiles the whole hour.
Fibromyalgia is a mysterious illness affecting mostly women and is often misdiagnosed. It’s a musculoskeletal condition that causes victims to have pain in the joints and feel chronically tired among other things.
I was intrigued hearing a report recently on National Public Radio about a social science study finding that when people were taught a routine and danced synchronized they experienced a higher threshold for pain.
People who danced randomly doing their own thing experience a lower threshold.
The theory is that because humans are social creatures and this has survival value, dancing together signals to the brain that you’re in simpatico and maybe this helps you relax.
While we know exercise helps to keep blood flowing and warm up joints and muscles, the people who danced unsynchronized did not enjoy as high a threshold for pain. The reporter suggested this need to be simpatico might be why so many cultures have some kind of dancing tradition.
My friend is not the only one suffering from pain to tell me exercise and particularly dance fitness classes help them feel better. I thought it might have a lot to do with simply enjoying and moving to music. Research has found music to motivate people to exercise and also relieve stress and pain.
I’ve noticed people, including myself, can start the dance class feeling stressed or irritated, but at the end of the class those feelings are long gone.
We joke sometimes “Zumba cures what ails you”. Whether it is stress, a headache, arthritis or even a cold. Moving and sweating to the music seems to release all kinds of good hormones, like endorphins from the pituitary gland creating exhilaration or what’s known as “runner’s high”.
Or another is dopamine, a pleasure chemical. Serotonin, a chemical responsible for happiness and restful sleep, works with endorphins in making exercise pleasurable. Some researchers even say physical activity can trigger oxytocin, the love hormone. All of this alone should get you up and moving! Talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise program.
But dancing has a special magical effect.
- The social science researchers looking at synchronized dancing found it also made the subjects become more connected to each other.
- Could this also have something to do with lowering the sensitivity to pain?
- Don’t you feel better when a loved one makes you soup or hugs you when you’re sick?
I’m sure more research needs to be done to better understand. But in the meantime, why not try line dancing, Street Vybe or any other group dancing class to see if it can ease your pain.
NPR Health Benefits of Dancing: http://www.npr.org/2016/05/03/476559518/the-health-benefits-of-dancing-go-beyond-exercise-and-stress-reducer
Science Magazine: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2015/10/synchronized-dancing-relieves-pain
Music & Pain Relief: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/why-music-moves-us/201111/music-and-pain-relief