Dance continues to grow in popularity. So does the level of commitment required from its participants. Children are beginning dance classes at younger ages, and competitive dancers may train five to six days per week in a year-round setting, placing them at high risk for injury with little time for rest and recovery.
Especially in adolescent dancers, the significant time commitment to training may over-stress the dancer’s growing body.
The most common dance injuries are soft tissue or overuse injuries that arise. We call this cumulative microtrauma, meaning it’s a lot of little overuse over time that can cause big problems. Still, acute injuries such as ankle sprains are also common.
Not surprisingly, foot and ankle injuries make up the largest set of injuries in dancers, with knee, hip, and back injuries also prevalent.
What causes dance injuries?
Compensation – One common cause of injuries in dancers is compensating in one area to achieve the desired appearance for a dance skill. Dancers are trained to achieve a certain “look” in the way their feet are pointed, the legs are extended, and hips are turned out. However, if a dancer lacks external rotation at the hip, they will often compensate by pronating at the ankle or pushing the ankle forward to achieve the appearance of turnout. This contributes to foot and ankle injuries, often in the Achilles tendon.
Footwear – The lack of supportive footwear used in dance may also contribute to injury. Dance shoes often provide no extra shock absorption; dancers may transmit up to six times their body weight while jumping on the forefoot. Ways to combat this additional stress on the body include training on properly sprung dance floors as well as learning proper jumping and landing mechanics to reduce stress through the joints. A physical therapist can help teach improved landing mechanics to reduce the risk of injury from repetitive impact.
Dancing “cold” – Insufficient warm up is another factor. The amount of time devoted to warm up and the dance instructor’s knowledge of appropriate warm-up techniques vary widely within dance studios. A proper warm-up should include at least five to 10 minutes of both low-intensity large muscle activity and stretching. A good warm-up will increase blood flow, increase body temperature, and stretch the muscles you are about to use. The warm-up will not only help prevent injury, but improve performance because warm muscles can create more power than cold muscles. Keep in mind: Even dancers who warm up sufficiently in practice or before a competition may fail to warm up again after a long waiting time in between dances in a competition or recital.
Cross training can be extremely beneficial in preventing injury in dancers and developing a stronger and more powerful dancer. Cross training involves participating in a variety of exercise activities and reduces the potential of overuse injuries by varying the types of stress to the joints and allowing time for muscles used in dance to recover.
Strengthening opposing muscle groups also creates more stable joints that are less likely to fatigue. Develop core and hip strength to improve jumping mechanics, improve power, and reduce the risk of injury.
Talk to a physical therapist about ways to incorporate cross training into your dance routine. Physical therapists can help dancers and teachers structure their training schedules to allow for relative rest and recovery time while incorporating supplemental strength training for muscles at risk for injury.
Most importantly, don’t try to push through or ignore a dance injury. Get help from a physical therapist immediately so we can help you get back in action soon!