When physical therapist Andrea Lasner joined the Johns Hopkins Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in 2009, the former professional dancer was dancing as a guest at a community dance school. There, word quickly got out about her day job, and her fellow performers streamed into her office to evaluate their aches and pains. Faculty members from a nearby university soon asked her to give their dancers baseline preventive screening exams.
Soon after, when Ken Johnson, director of rehabilitation therapy services outreach at the Johns Hopkins Health Care and Surgery Center at Green Spring Station, asked Lasner what direction her future held, the answer was clear: “I always knew that I’d like to treat dancers,” she says.
Today, Lasner directs the Johns Hopkins Performing Arts Physical Therapy Program, a service dedicated to accommodating the unique needs of dancers, musicians, vocal artists, aerialists, figure skaters and other performing artists. She was joined in 2012 by physical therapist Amanda Greene, who also used to dance professionally.
Performing artists have unique needs that often aren’t well-served by traditional physical therapy, says Greene. For example, the range of motion dictated by many styles of dance is far beyond what most physical therapists would consider acceptable. Similarly, the demands of some performing arts, such as playing an instrument in a specific posture for a long time, are often dismissed by traditional physical therapy.
“Someone who isn’t familiar with these types of patients would say, ‘We need to get you out of that position,’ but we can’t do that,” Greene says. “We need to work within the constraints of what this particular technique requires.”
The program offers comprehensive care for patients, including physical and occupational therapy for acute injuries, and regular maintenance to keep artists healthy and able to perform. The team also provides preventive screening, backstage evaluations, treatments and education for local dance schools. Dance medicine research with students at nearby universities is helping to improve the services that the program offers patients, Lasner says. For example, the team recently completed a study that confirmed the utility of Pilates for improving postural misalignments, strength and flexibility in dancers.
Patients who come to their program often find comfort in the fact that she and Lasner are also performing artists, says Greene. “If they complain of pain with a plie, and I ask if it’s with grand plie or demi plie, their eyes light up,” she explains. “They know that I speak their language and that I’m going to help.”
There’s no greater reward than to see their patients perform, which they’re often invited to do, says Lasner. “When they’re able to return to the stage and do what they’re intended to do without pain and limitations,” she says, “we know we’ve done our job.”