A performance medicine therapist with Cirque du Soleil, Athletic Training alumnus Christian Marks helps the acrobats, dancers and musicians who perform nearly 500 shows each year stay on their feet — or dangling in mid-air.
In the performing arts, athletic trainers can provide on-site medical care that helps to reduce the frequency and severity of performers' injuries while also reducing operating and production costs, according to studies cited by the National Athletic Trainers' Association. Christian Marks, MS '08, ATC, discusses his role as a performance medicine therapist with Cirque du Soleil's La Nouba show in Orlando, Florida.
You've been with Cirque du Soleil since 2011. How is your work with the performers different than what you have experienced with other athletes? "It's a very different type of work and schedule than traditional athletes face. You're dealing with world-class athletes who never get an off-season and who have two 'games' a day, five days a week."
What does that mean for the types of injuries you see and the way you treat them? "We see a lot of over-training, overuse injuries, such as tendonitis. The tough part is finding ways to treat these performers while they remain active, without taking a break from their work. It's a matter of having foresight in an area of expertise that is small to begin with — because the show has to go on as perfectly as possible every day."
Which new technologies are you using to help your performers rehabilitate? "A year or two before I came, they brought in sound-assisted soft-tissue mobilization (SASTM) instruments. Those help us deal with the overuse injuries. We're currently trying to incorporate laser light therapy and general light therapy, which help to accelerate the turnover rate in cells, leading to better recover times."
How did the School of Health and Medical Sciences help prepare you for this challenging work? "It gave me the skill set I needed to become one of the best. I realized that what I considered a standard skill set was actually above the norm, including my ability to read imaging studies and utilize manual therapy techniques. That has really paid off when it came down to proving myself in this field."
This story originally appeared in the 2013 issue of Insights magazine, published annually by the School of Health and Medical Sciences. Read the rest of the magazine here.