Dance is Exercise in Disguise for CRPS and Chronic Pain

By Lucrecia Martinez, CPT, CES, FMT

In 2010, I received a difficult diagnosis: a left hip labrum tear with hip impingement. I was now not only a personal trainer specialized in working with patients with chronic pain, but also a patient and chronic pain sufferer myself. I would also face, like my patients, big decisions about how this pain would alter my life.

Until then, my passion in life had been dancing. My husband and I met dancing. We loved to escape on date nights to dance salsa, cumbia, merengue, and any other Latin-infused music.

At first, I denied that pain could rob me of my passion. I would grit and push myself through the pain. I feared that, if my husband and I could no longer dance, he would feel sad. All of this dancing in denial, however, would cause flare-ups that lasted for days.

Some years later, while working with my patients, I realized that neither dance nor pain needed to dictate my life, that my life was mine alone. I taught patients how to modify and pace their activities, helping them to manage pain, regain function, and reach personal goals. Why not do the same for myself? Why not modify dance?

I then trained to be a Latin dance instructor. Together with my husband, we choreographed our own unique and modified dance moves to go with high beat, energetic and fun music. Those moves created the first Latin Dance Fusion class that I taught for those who suffer from chronic pain.

At first this was a hard class to sell! For a few weeks, I found myself alone with no participants. As we all know, chronic pain leads to fear of movement, fear of pain, and fear of re-injury. “No thank you, Lucrecia. I think I’ll pass on dancing!”

As I talked to more patients, I explained how the moves could be modified to honor their own individual needs. I encouraged patients. I made each patient feel welcomed and helped modify moves according to their respective injury or pain location. They were brave! They conquered their fear!

What began as a class of zero has grown to ten or more of us two to three times a week! I can proudly say at least 5 of the dancers are CRPS patients!

You may ask, “How in the world can you modify dancing?” That’s the fun, liberating question.

First, the moves are modified for specific muscles. We leave out the jumping, twisting, and other high- impact triggers. Second, there is no rule that says we must stand while dancing. For people with lower extremity injuries, we can groove while sitting down with just arms. For upper extremity injuries, we can choreograph footwork and limit or modify arm movements. Third, people with full body pain can come enjoy the music, watch, and laugh with good people who understand each others’ lives. Guess what? Just by doing that, they have begun the biological healing process of releasing endorphins!

Therein lies the beauty.

Exercise is medicine. It is needed to keep our hearts healthy and decrease the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and many other chronic ailments. Dancing is simply exercise in disguise! Our Latin Dance Fusion classes secretly integrate exercises for the entire body, as willing, in 45 minutes of dancing.

In 45 minutes, we are sweating, our hearts are pumping, we are smiling, we are laughing, and we follow movements guided by a trainer specialized in working with patients in pain.

I asked what some of my patients turned dancers had to say about the experience. One regular, Lisa, who has lived with CRPS for the past 11 years, said, “Dancing gives me energy. It is fun to dance with friends who understand what it is like living with pain. It helps me to feel normal and allows me to focus on the dance steps instead of focusing on the pain!”

Another regular, Eric, recently started to teach the class, too. “Dancing brightens my day and since I began teaching, allows me to help brighten the day of others who suffer with pain just as I do,” he said. “See, I always wanted to teach. I never thought I would teach dancing! Dancing has increased my confidence to a level it has not been in for years!”

Indeed, Eric, spreading hope is a precious joy. Hearing those words from each of the dancers, moreover seeing their smiling faces together with mine throughout the week, has been priceless. If you think modified dancing may be for you, talk to your primary doctor about whether such dancing could be something for you to start!



Our Latin Fusion Dance Class for Chronic Pain avoids jumping, twisting or bending. We take traditional exercises, modify to fit the need of each person (e.g., sitting or by limiting movement to injured area if pain increases). We are non-judgmental and promote pacing and modifications! Each person adds their own flavor to their dance, making it their own.

As shown in the picture above, the participants are working on shoulder range of motion with a side step.


Lucrecia’s best 3 rhythms of the night playlist:

We enjoy these songs because they have easier beats for adapting dance moves.

1.  I like it like that (Mambo/ Cha Cha Cha) By: Ballroom Orchestra & Singers

2.  Bailando (Spanish Version) By: Enrique Iglesias

3. Techno Cumbia By: Selena