No matter what style of dance you perform, dancing requires a great deal of flexibility, strength and stamina. Hours of training, rehearsals and performances can be very demanding on a dancer’s body, especially lower body muscles and joints.
Dance injuries are therefore not uncommon amongst dancers of all ages. Ankle sprains, lower back spasms and hip joint injuries are among some of the most common dance injuries. However, there is plenty that dancers can do to help prevent dance injuries during their practice and in day-to-day habits.
Most Common Dance Injuries
The demanding nature of dance means that dancers can experience injury to a number of different areas of their bodies. Some of the most common dance injuries, however, are typically in the lower body, including the back, hips, feet and ankles.
Ankle sprains are one of the most common acute dance injuries. Often occurring as a result of overstretching the ankle ligaments by extending the joint beyond its normal range of motion. Particularly severe ankle sprains, or those left untreated and without rest, can cause tears in the ligaments within the joint.
Dancers with ankle sprains will experience pain on the inside and outside of their ankle, and in more severe cases, also experience swelling and visible bruising.
Shin splints often occur as a result of placing stress on the leg, and usually causes pain and tenderness along the shin. This can sometimes occur through dancing on a hard surface, placing stress on the leg after a period of inactivity, or using improper technique.
Commonly referred to as “trigger toe”, this dance injury is a result of damage to the muscle in the toes, particularly the big toe, when dancing en pointe. Pain can occur along the inside of the ankle and extend under the foot, which can make the big toe feel stuck when pointing the feet.
Often as a result of over use of the achilles tendon through pointing the feet, achilles tendonitis causes inflammation along the back of a dancer’s ankle.
This injury is more common in dancers who are consistently using improper form or training too much. Tenderness and pain can be felt above the heel of the foot in those suffering from achilles tendonitis. This pain can often appear to reduce once warmed up, but can be aggravated by jumping or dancing en pointe.
Dancers may experience a snapping or popping noise in the hip joint and some tenderness around the area. This noise is the result of a muscle or tendon moving over the hip bone with external rotation, often with developpé and battements.
Snapping hip is considered a long-term injury and treatment typically involves massaging, stretching and physical therapy centred around strengthening the hip and core.
Cartilage is found in many areas of the body, but dancers are most likely to experience cartilage tears around the knees, particularly meniscus tears. The meniscus sits beneath the kneecap and can be torn or damaged when landing jumps incorrectly or overly twisting the knee.
Meniscus tears can cause pain when extending the knee and jumping.
Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome
Also known as ‘jumper’s knee’ can be caused by the kneecap ‘tracking’ incorrectly as a result of a muscle imbalance, tight hamstrings and calves and weak quad muscles. This places repetitive force on the kneecap, causing pain in the joint.
Patellofemoral pain syndrome often occurs through jumps or pliés performed without proper form. Dancers may notice pain in the front of the knee when performing jumps, bending the knee and climbing stairs.
Dancer’s fracture is the name given to the fracture of the 5th metatarsal, the bone connecting the little toe to the midfoot. This fracture can occur when the ankle is rolled while the dancer is on their toes, causing immediate pain and some swelling in the foot.
This injury can often heal in a few weeks, but in some occasions can require surgery.
Back strain and spasms
Strain to the dancer’s lower back is caused by tilting the pelvis downwards and arching the lower back frequently. This movement compresses the spinal joints, overloading pressure on the lower back area. Back strain and spasms can also be a result of muscle imbalance between the back and abdominal muscles, and occurs more frequently in dancers who have a curvature in their lower spine.
Muscles can feel weak, or tight and often spasm while performing or resting.
Preventing Dance Injuries
Many of these common dance injuries, particularly those as a result of repetitive movement or strain, can be prevented with some small changes in dance practice and daily habits.
Always wear proper shoes and clothing for dance
Ensure your feel and joints are properly supported for your style of dance, switching footwear where appropriate if you are moving between several different dance styles or classes.
Always warm up and cool down before and after practice
Stretch or roll out sore muscles using a foam roller. This will help to prevent muscles from becoming strained and also help to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness, ensuring proper form can be more easily maintained in dance training or performances over the following days.
Practice dance on suitable dance flooring
Sprung floors in particular are known to reduce pressure on dancer’s knees, legs and ankles as they absorb the energy exerted from leaps and jumps and return some of this energy to the dancer. Also, make sure to practice dance on flooring with suitable traction. Different dance styles will have different demands of their flooring, but it is important to always use the correct floor especially if practicing or performing for several hours at a time.
Build strength and endurance
Consider implementing exercises that build strength and endurance in all parts of the body to avoid muscle imbalances that can lead to many of the most common dance injuries.
Ensure that correct form is always used
Using correct form in practice and performance can help to reduce unnecessary strain on muscles and joints which can lead to injury.
Although dance injuries can affect dancers of all ages and across all genres, there is plenty that dancers and studio owners can do to help prevent these most common types of dance injury.
Investing in the right flooring for your professional studio or for home practice can help to support dancer’s joints and muscles, working to prevent injuries from strains, jumps and falls.