While it may appear effortless and graceful, dance is a physically demanding, high-impact sport. It requires strength, flexibility, and stamina. Dancers spend countless hours repeating the same movements over and over again in an attempt to reach that graceful perfection that makes watching them so enrapturing.
Unfortunately, the physical demands of dancing make dancers highly susceptible to injury. Dancers commonly suffer everything from stress fractures to sprains while trying to hone their craft. Not only are these injuries painful, they can also leave a dancer unable to perform for long periods of time. Read on to learn about the 7 most common dance injuries and what you can do to prevent them.
1. Ankle Sprains
Ankle sprains are the most common acute injury that dancers experience. They happen when something forces the ankle outside of its normal range of motion, tearing or overstretching the ligaments around the ankle. This can happen when the ankles are fatigued, a dancer loses their balance, there are issues with a dancer’s shoes, or during a misstep in a dance. Pain from an ankle sprain comes on immediately, and the ankle can swell or bruise in severe cases.
How can dancers prevent ankle sprains?
Having had a sprained ankle in the past makes you more likely to sprain it again in the future, so be aware of the potential for reinjury. To prevent sprains, work on strengthening the muscles used in stabilizing the ankle joint. Four-way ankle exercises can help strengthen these muscles, and a focus on strengthening your hips can help you, taking the stress off your ankles as you dance.
2. Achilles Tendonitis
The Achilles is the body’s largest tendon, and dancers rely on it heavily. Achilles tendonitis is an overuse injury in which the Achilles tendon becomes inflamed. This condition comes on gradually, with pain and swelling in the backside of your heel as you try to dance. You may feel better after you get warmed up, but the pain will worsen as you dance. It can develop into tight calf muscles and a limited range of motion.
How can dancers prevent Achilles tendonitis?
This is an overuse injury, so one of the best precautions is to gradually train up to higher levels, and to slow your schedule down if you start to feel pain or tightness in your Achilles tendon. You should also work on stretching your Achilles with your foot in parallel, and strengthening the muscles that support the feet and ankles so that the Achilles tendon doesn’t have to take so much stress during certain movements.
3. “Trigger Toe” (Flexor Hallucis Longus Tenosynovitis)
Trigger toe is another overuse injury common dancers. Due to the stress put on the big toe during some styles of dance, the tendon that controls it (the flexor hallucis longus) can become inflamed and injured, which makes it difficult or impossible to flex the toe. Pain from trigger toe comes on gradually, and makes it very painful to perform. Your toe may be difficult or impossible to flex, and may feel like it is stuck.
How can dancers prevent trigger toe?
Trigger toe can be prevented by being sure to practice good form with your feet and by not crunching your toes to force pointed feet. You can also stretch the flexor hallucis longus tendon by rolling out the arch of your foot with a ball.
4. Ankle Impingement
Ankle impingement is another overuse injury commonly experienced by dancers. It consists of the pinching of tissues at either the front or the back of the ankle. Anterior impingement feels like pinching at the front of the ankle when you’re at the bottom of a plié. Posterior impingement feels like pinching at the back of the ankle when you’re pointing your toes. Both types cause pain that comes on gradually, decreased range of motion, and tenderness on the ankle when touched.
How can dancers prevent ankle impingement?
Ankle impingement is more likely to happen after an ankle sprain, so work with a physical therapist to restore ankle stability if you have suffered a sprain. You should also practice proper technique and be sure to stretch your Achilles tendon.
5. Snapping Hip
Snapping hip syndrome actually causes an audible snap when you do legwork. The snap comes from a tendon catching as it passes quickly over the hip joint during movement. It can occur in the back, front, or side of the hip. The snapping does not hurt at first, but over time it will become painful.
How can dancers prevent snapping hip?
Snapping hip is most often caused by tightness in the muscles and tendons surrounding the hip. To prevent it, you can use a foam roller to stretch your hip flexors, quadriceps, IT band, and glutes. You can also strengthen your glutes and core to offer support to these muscles and tendons.
6. Hip Impingement
Hip impingement happens when something prevents the smooth, painless, and free movement of the ball-and-socket joint in your hip. This can be anything from arthritis, a labral tear, a stress fracture, muscle strain, snapping hip syndrome, sacroiliac joint dysfunction, or piriformis syndrome. It may begin with only vague pain, but will worsen as time goes on. This condition typically causes stiffness in the thigh, hip, or groin, as well as an inability to flex the hip beyond a certain point. You may also experience pain in the groin area after you have flexed your hip. Pain in the hip, groin, or lower back can occur at rest or while dancing.
How can dancers prevent hip impingement?
Use a foam roller to stretch your hip flexors, quadriceps, IT band, and glutes. You can also strengthen your glutes and core to offer support to your hips.
7. “Jumper’s Knee” (Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome)
Jumper’s knee is a strain of the patellar tendon, which runs from the bottom of the kneecap to the upper part of the shin. This condition causes pain in the front of the knee when you land from a jump, use stairs, or sit with the knee bent for a long time. It is an overuse injury that comes on gradually and gets worse over time. It is typically caused by muscle imbalances like tight hamstrings and calves coupled with weak quads, which places too much stress on the patellar tendon.
How can dancers prevent jumper’s knee?
To prevent jumper’s knee, focus on strengthening your core and hips to support your knees. Use a foam roller to stretch hip flexors, quadriceps, IT band, and glutes.
General Tips to Prevent Dance Injuries
In dancing, just as with any sport, it’s important to listen to your body and get adequate rest. Overtraining always backfires in the form of exhaustion and injury, so don’t push yourself beyond reasonable limits. Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong, so you should never try to push through pain that seems excessive or unusual. This only leads to further injury, which will mean more time off in the end. Always consult your doctor if you have any concerns. Specifically, call your doctor right away if you experience:
- Pain during the night
- Pain at the start of your workout
- Pain that worsens with activity
- Pain that causes you to change the way you dance, walk, sit, stand, or move in general
If you are experiencing any of the pain listed above, don’t wait to see a doctor. If you can, try to find a doctor that has experience treating dancers. They will be able to evaluate your pain, decide whether additional testing or x-rays are needed, and create a treatment plan to get you safely back on the dance floor.
An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth Years of Happy Dancing
Preventing injury is key to a long, enjoyable, and healthy dancing career. Above all, be sure to practice proper form, listen to your body, and avoid overtraining. All dancers suffer injuries at some point, but working to minimize those injuries will ensure that you can keep dancing year after year.
If you have more questions or want to register for a dance class contact our friendly team by calling 317-783-5260 or reaching out online today!