Injury in dance is common. So common in fact that 97% of dancers have reported experiencing at least one significant injury in their dance career to date. So how can young dancers prevent injuries and ensure longevity in their career? To answer this, I spoke with Jessica Thompson, a Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist who developed her passion for Physiotherapy and the human body after experiencing her fair share of injuries throughout her dancing and gymnastics career. Jessica has an impressive dance and gymnastics background, completing up to the highest CSTD ballet exam, being an elite gymnast at the Western Australian Institute of Sport and being a Wildcats dancer for many years. As a Physiotherapist and dancer, she has developed a big passion for the management, rehabilitation and prevention of dance related injuries.
What are the most common dance injuries and why?
Dancers require a lot of strength, flexibility and endurance. Often, we are practicing and performing repetitive whole body movements for extended periods of times. If we are not careful, this can result in overuse injuries. However, often enough dancers can also experience acute injuries as well. Due to the nature of dancing, being predominant use of the lower limbs, dancers are often prone to injuries of the foot, ankle and knee.
Here are 3 common dance injuries you may come across:
1. Ankle Sprains:
Lateral ankle sprains are one of the most common traumatic injuries in dancers. This injury is often described as 'rolling your ankle’. It is excessive stretching of the ankle outside of its normal range resulting in overstretching or possibly tearing the ligaments in the outside of your ankle. This injury is most commonly caused by impact and landing improperly.
2. Posterior Ankle Impingement.
This is an overuse injury commonly felt at the back of the ankle. It often feels like a pinching or compression at the back of the ankle when doing movements which involve pointing the foot such as going onto rise, relevé or battement tendus. This injury is often seen in ballet dancers when doing their pointe work because of the excessive time their foot is in a pointed (plantar flexed) position.
3. Patellafemoral Pain Syndrome
This is a condition that broadly describes pain around the front of the knee and/or around the kneecap (patella). It is often known as “jumper’s knee” or “runner’s knee”. It is an injury which is caused by poor tracking of the kneecap due to muscle imbalances of the leg. Tight Iliotibial bands (ITB), weak quadriceps and gluteal muscles in combination with incorrect technique, increases the risk of dancers experiencing this type of knee pain. Similarly, dancers often have lots of flexibility or mobility. Often hypermobile kneecaps also increase the risk of developing patellofemoral pain syndrome.
What are 5 tips for dancers to stay injury free?
Overuse and traumatic injuries can often be prevented. Here are some tips to avoid injury:
1. Always do a proper warm up and cool down before/after dance classes or performances. This must include a combination of both dynamic movements and static stretches.
2. Appropriate footwear and dance attire. Always ensure your dance shoes (in all genres) are the correct size and fit. (You don’t want Blisters!)
3. Rest! Make sure you have adequate rest to avoid overtraining and reduce the risk of developing overuse injuries. Always listen to your body!
4. Strengthening Exercises: It is important you undertake some strengthening exercises, in particular, core and ankle strengthening. Core stability and gluteal strength is essential to ensure you have the ability to control your body and weight placement. Simple ankle strengthening and balancing exercises can help reduce the risk of ankle and foot injuries.
5. Listen to your teachers! Teachers often correct technique. Often incorrect form and technique increases the likelihood of obtaining an injury.
When should you seek help for a dance injury and who should be the first health professional you contact?
There a few key features of an injury to be aware of when considering seeking a health professional:
- acute traumatic injuries
- pain at night time
- pain that hasn’t subsided despite resting
- pain that worsens with your dancing activity
- pain that is changing your dance technique and/or ability
For soft tissue injuries (such as the ones listed above) your Physiotherapist will be a good first point of contact and should be able to provide you with the treatment and care that is required.
Jessica works at Move Well Warwick Physiotherapy.