A Dancer's Body - Darius Crenshaw on recovering from knee surgery

Ballet and Theater Dancer, Darius Crenshaw on recovering from knee surgery (pt 1 of 6)

thatgirl006 will be doing a series of posts written by professional dancers that offer insights into their lives off the stage. Our first contributor is dear friend and accomplished dancer, Darius Crenshaw. Darius is on a medical leave of absence from Motown: The Musical and recovering from his recent knee surgery to repair ACL and medial meniscus tears. The doctors estimate that it will be a 6-month rehabilitation period, and Darius will be posting monthly updates until he returns to dancing full-time. 

The biggest first-month hurdle with my knee injury was the psychological aspect of trusting my body throughout the recovery process. I suffered the same injury on the right knee two years ago, so I feel confident in my knowledge of what the current recovery of my left knee entails. After I had sustained the ACL and medial meniscus tear this time around, I was prepared for the pain that would accompany the injury post-surgery. Albeit fortunately, I didn’t experience the latter after the previous surgery.  Along with that, I had an expectation of what my recovery time would be and my physical abilities, or lack thereof, during the different matriculating stages. This physical, emotional, and mental roller coaster was one I had ridden before so I knew I was ready for what was about to happen.

With that, I unwittingly set myself up. The initial recovery of my left knee was mostly incomparable to my right knee. This month my left knee’s progression seemed to be moving at light speed in comparison to my previous knee injury. That comparison lead to my skepticism of how quickly my body was progressing in this initial stage of recovery.

After I had gotten over the first week of post-surgical pain, my recovery hit the fast track. In the second week, I started physical therapy. My physical therapist made some assessments of muscle strength and took some knee extension and flexion measurements. Right away I was surprised at his findings. He noticed in my quad sets that my quad muscles hadn’t atrophied as much as we were expecting. When he measured knee extension, it was the same as my right knee, and my knee flexion measured at one hundred fifteen degrees. I was pleasantly surprised. The first group of exercises he gave me were hard to execute for the first few days but became easier and easier as the days went on. Even so, it was still hard for me to trust the progress that my knee was making because mentally I was still holding onto my previous experience, which was an extremely methodical process. I had prepared for a repeat performance with this injury. The fact that this was the contrary took a while for me to accept due to fear of compromising the ACL graph or damaging the meniscal repair. My physical therapist assured me that the rate of progress I was making was a good thing and that I wasn’t overdoing it. My rate of progress was so good that my doctor had to modify my physical therapy prescription to keep up with the rate of progress. Suddenly I realized that if I didn’t change my approach in equating my left knee’s rate of progress with my right I would be complicit in impeding my body’s rate of progress.

Shortly after my first week working with my physical therapist, I started to surrender to the fact that the initial rate of recovery was going to be quicker with this leg than my right leg… and that was okay. My physical therapist started adding more exercises and slightly intensifying the ones he had already given me. The integration of the exercises was pretty seamless. Going with the idea of trusting my body more, I discovered that my leg was strong enough to walk around the house without crutches while still wearing my brace. In the subsequent weeks my rate of recovery has remained consistent which pleased me, my doctor, and my physical therapist. At the end of the four-week period, my doctor ordered my functional brace and modified my physical therapy prescription again because everything was going so well. At this point, I was elated without question.

So far the first month has been a huge learning experience. Because I had been through this injury before I thought that I had it all figured out by expecting the worse for my recovery. It was a fear based protective mechanism that I had to let go of completely to allow this recovery experience be completely independent of the last. I’ve learned that recovery rates vary regardless of whether the injuries are closely similar or completely different. From now on I will be continuing my recovery with an open mind and without expectation.

Darius Crenshaw started dance and musical theater training at School for Creative and Performing Arts in Cincinnati, Ohio. He started his professional career at Cincinnati Ballet at the age of 14 and later as a soloist. After graduating high school, Darius moved to New York to train with School of American Ballet in 1995. In 1997, he was invited to join New York City Ballet where he was a company member for eight years. His Broadway credits include The Color Purple (Broadway and 1st national tour), Phantom of the Opera, and Motown: The Musical. He also performed in the "American Opera Street Scene" with Toulon Opera in Toulon, France in the roles of Dick McGann and The Marshal.