Pole Burn: Your Guide to Dealing with Friction Woes

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"What about pole burn? Like what happens to you when you're a kid on the monkey bars, your hands hurt and you lose your grip? Except here, not just on your hands but also on your body. Ouch?"
~Question submitted by Katie

Ouch is right Katie! Your Pole Pal feels your pain, and you're in good company with lots of other pole dance enthusiasts who are also feeling the burn. Here are some tips for reducing, avoiding and coping with this painful situation.

To start off, you may want to check out a similar FAQ. That question referred specifically to inner thigh pain, but you'll likely pick up some good information related to your pole burn question, since the two are closely related.

What Exactly Is Pole Burn?

Pole burn is, unfortunately, a fact of life for most new pole dancers. To better understand how to cope with it, let's take a quick look at what exactly causes pole burn. From there, we can go over some ways to reduce the problem.

Keep in mind that pole burn is actually a type of friction burn. Going back to grade 9 science class, you'll likely remember that friction causes heat. And of course, excessive heat is what causes burns. In the case of pole dancing, the friction of your skin against the pole causes heat, and if that heat becomes excessive, pole burn is the result.

How to Avoid (or at least reduce) Pole Burn

There are essentially two main things you can do to address the problem of pole burn: a) reduce friction, thereby reducing the likelihood and/or the severity of burns, and b) toughen up your skin so that it can more easily withstand the friction that leads to pole burn.

Toughen Up

Let's start with the second one first. The ability of your skin to withstand friction plays a part in how susceptible you are to pole burn. The good news is, we do have some control over this, and over time it's possible to "toughen up" the delicate skin where pole burn is most likely to occur.

As you'll know if you've read the above referenced post (here it is again, in case you didn't), a baby's bath water needs to be much cooler than an adult might enjoy. This is because the baby's skin is newer, thinner, and not accustomed to much variation in temperature. In other words, it's not as tough as an adult's skin. So whereas an adult might find a steaming hot bath relaxing, a baby would find it extremely painful because the baby's delicate skin is not used to hot water.

As we get older and our skin becomes thicker and more accustomed to heat, cold, and friction, it becomes able to tolerate a wider range of temperatures as well as activities that involve increased friction. Carpenters can swing a hammer all day because the skin on their hands has toughened over time. Dancers need to accustom their feet to spending hours in tap, ballet or ballroom dance shoes. And let's not forget how much most of us enjoy a nice, hot bath...at a temperature we would never bathe a baby in!

So how do you toughen up your skin for pole dancing? The main thing is to regularly practice the moves that cause pole burn. The key is to stop *before* you feel the burn, and importantly, allow your skin to recover fully between sessions so that you're not irritating it further. Trying to push through pole burn, or train the same move too soon after experiencing a friction burn, is only counter-productive as it doesn't allow the skin to heal and "come back stronger."

Your goal is to build up your skin's tolerance to friction by gradually increasing the number of times you can repeat a move, or the amount of time you can hold a pose. Remember, gradually is the operative word here. It will take time and you can't rush it. Persistence + patience = progress.

Reducing Pole Friction

Now let's back up a bit and look at some ways to reduce pole friction. Friction is simply the resistance that one surface encounters when moving over another surface. In this case, we are talking about the surface of your skin moving over the surface of a dance pole. The equation for reducing friction can work two ways:

Less resistance = less friction = less pole burn.
In this case the two surfaces are still moving over each other, but they are doing so with much less resistance, which generates less friction.

Maximum resistance = less friction = less pole burn.
Here the plan would be to increase resistance to the point that the two surfaces stop moving over each other. If there is no movement, there is no friction, and therefore no pole burn.

As you can see, in order to reduce pole burn, we need to reduce friction. And we can do this by either increasing or decreasing resistance. Which way we need to go, and how far we need to go in either direction, depends on the type of move that's causing the pole burn.

Take spinning for example. It's common to get pole burn on the hands from doing spins. To avoid this, we could try to find ways to reduce friction while spinning. But eliminating friction entirely from our spins would mean not being able to hold onto the pole at all. And that wouldn't end well!

On the other hand, obviously we don't want to try to reduce friction during a spin by gripping the pole more tightly, or by applying a strong grip product to our hands, or by using grip gloves, since all of those options would make it difficult, if not impossible, to spin at all.

However, you might find you can moderate the amount of friction you experience, such that you can still do your spin successfully, but it doesn't burn your hands as much. For example, using one of the antiperspirant type pole grip products may be useful if you're finding that sweaty palms are making you slide; the natural reaction to losing your grip is to grab the pole more tightly, but of course that means more friction and before you know it, more pole burn! So hitting the source of the problem (sweaty palms) might help you avoid the need to compensate with a too-strong grip while spinning.

For other moves like leg locks in inversions however, we actually want maximum resistance, because that's the only thing keeping us on that dance pole. And if we can increase resistance to the point that our skin no longer slides on the pole, that will go a long way toward reducing pole burn. This is where the "sticky" type grip aids can be useful.

Another way you can help reduce this type of pole burn over time is to work on strengthening the muscles involved in gripping the pole. These muscles will vary according to the move of course, but one example is the adductors, or inner thigh muscles which are involved in many leg holds. Stronger muscles are better able to squeeze the pole to keep you in place. In essence, you're reducing friction by increasing the ability of your muscles to exert a force on the pole to keep yourself in one place. This is an example of the maximum resistance = less friction equation described above.

Important Note: Newer pole dancers might think that simply having ample thighs is the key to being able to do a secure leg hold. But in reality, it's not the size of the thighs but the muscles IN those thighs that's important. If you've got plenty of thigh but not much muscle, you're going to meet up with our old friend friction every time you try to do a leg hold. That's because without enough strength to grip the pole securely with your thighs, you're going to find yourself sliding straight into pole burn...ouch!

How to Treat Pole Burn

While working on improving muscle strength, toughening up your skin, and experimenting with grip aids can all help reduce pole burn in the long term, you'll no doubt want to know the best way to treat your pole burn injuries right now. Fortunately, the most effective remedy is also inexpensive, simple to use, and readily availalbe. Yes, Your Pole Pal is talking about good old-fashioned ICE.

As with regular burns, ice is a very effective treatment for pole (friction) burns as it cools the affected skin and reduces inflammation, which speeds healing. You don't even need an official ice pack; a bag of frozen veggies works just fine.

You can even make your own flexible ice pack by mixing water and rubbing alcohol 1:1 in a zip top plastic bag. Pop the bag in the freezer and store it there, ready for use whenever you need it. The alcohol keeps the water from freezing into a solid lump, so it's easy to mold your ice pack to the area you want to cover.

Just remember to wrap the ice pack in a cloth before applying to your skin. You don't want to get frost bite on top of your pole burn!

Pole Burn Tips Summarized

Tip #1: Reducing friction is the key to reducing pole burn. Friction can be reduced by either maximizing or minimizing resistance. To accomplish this, experiment with moderating your grip, and try using different pole grip products (different products work in different ways).

Tip #2: Work on strengthening the muscles in the areas where you suffer pole burn. This is commonly the inner thighs, so although pole dancing is known as an awesome core and upper body workout, leg strength can't be overlooked when it comes to avoiding pole burn!

Tip #3: Practice regularly to help your skin to toughen up. But not too often, since your skin needs to be able to recover between sessions, just like your muscles.

Tip #4: Apply ice after any session where you experience pole burn. It will relieve the pain and help to speed healing as you're working on tips 1-3.

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