MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

The American Dance Therapy Association defines Dance Movement Therapy as the psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote emotional, social, cognitive, and physical integration of the participant.

Dance/movement therapy is:

  • Focused on movement behavior as it emerges in the therapeutic relationship.  Expressive, communicative, and adaptive behaviors are all considered for group and individual treatment.  Body movement, as the core component of dance, simultaneously provides the means of assessment and the mode of intervention for dance/movement therapy.
  • Practiced in mental health, rehabilitation, medical, educational and forensic settings, and in nursing homes, day care centers, disease prevention, health promotion programs and in private practice.
  • Effective for individuals with developmental, medical, social, physical and psychological impairments.
  • Used with people of all ages, races and ethnic backgrounds in individual, couples, family and group therapy formats.

This sounds interesting, but does dance therapy work?

The aim of this paper was to perform a systematic review on the effectiveness of dance-based programs in patients with fibromyalgia, as well as calculate the overall effect size of the improvements, through a meta-analysis.

A total of 7 RCTs fulfilled all inclusion criteria. Their methodological quality was low. Duration of dance programs ranged from 12 to 24 weeks. Sessions lasted between 60 and 120 minutes and were performed 1-2 times per week. The overall effect size for pain was -1.64 with a 95% CI from -2.69 to -0.59 which can be interpreted as large. In addition, significant improvements were observed in quality of life, depression, impact of the disease, anxiety, and physical function.

The authors concluded that dance-based intervention programs can be an effective intervention for people suffering from fibromyalgia, leading to a significant reduction of the level of pain with an effect size that can be considered as large. However, findings and conclusions from this meta-analysis must be taken with caution due to the small number of articles and the large heterogeneity.

I don’t doubt that physical activity can ease pain, particularly, if combined with the often positive social interactions of dance. What is unclear to me is whether dance therapy generates results that are better than other forms of physical activity.

And then again, is that question really all that important? Perhaps the best advice to patients is to engage in the type of physical exercise the like best. At the very least, this would minimise the often poor compliance with such programs and might thus maximise their potential benefits.

7 Responses to Dance the pain away; a simple way to help fibromyalgia patients

  • There is an aspect of learning by understanding which makes patients interested and they start to experiment and experience by themselves and that’s the base for compliance. This relates to the concept of salutogenesis of Antonovsky how to rise the skills for self-empowerment. My whole approach for functional disorders is based on this. In cases of disease I am following the AWMF guidelines and Cochrane reviews consequently,

  • This is a nice “off the beaten trail post”. Your end query is pertinent: people who exercise or do-stuff for their health and well being, consistently I would wager simply have less pain and better function than those that don’t. Though the body has no idea if you’re “dancing” or just “jumping around”….but a structured class has social and retention value I’d also guess.
    I think a good advert for an organizations like this might be:
    “There’s no value in trying to “treat” your pain away with wasteful trips to the DC or PT…take the initiative yourself and dance-your-pain-away….and it’s a hell of a lot cheaper. And you won’t feel like you’ve been cheated when you leave”.

  • Dance is certainly distinct from other forms of exercise. It uses what you might call impractical movement patterns, e.g. walking sideways while facing the audience while swinging the arms rather than just turning left and going. This also requires a lot more thought and proprioception than just walking.

    Obviously many people like dancing, and that’s an obvious plus if any exercise is the answer. My thought is that an evidenced based physical therapy program which uses similar movements without the artistic component might do even better. That may be too much to ask for though, as you can’t study everything.

    • I suspect the artistic component is quite important, if only to hold the interest of the participants. Rather like the difference between playing music on an instrument as opposed to just scales and exercises. Playing music is satisfying in itself on many levels, and the steady improvements that come with practice even more so. Then there is the social component of playing with other people and the unique communication that goes with it. I am a hopeless dancer, but for those who can do it I imagine that it is very similar to music in these regards.

      I would also imagine that the same movements would be done in a different way if the goal is dance rather than exercise, and probably they would involve different neural circuits.

  • As far as I can ascertain, dance therapists (DTs) make no claims their activities “liberate vital energy”, “realign meridians “, or “attune the patient with the universe “.

    They seem to be an honest profession practicing with integrity.

    Good luck to them.
    I’m still stuck in the first position!

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