Dance just like any sport can be quite demanding. Pre-professional dance training schedules include technique class, rehearsals, and performances while typical training can be 5-6 days/week and up to 20-30 hours/week. A lot of that time is spent focusing on mastering movement and skills through repetition. It’s pretty consistent in studies that pre professional dancers suffer from overuse injuries more commonly than acute injuries which makes sense given the repetitive nature of training. As for where most injuries occur?--it’s probably also no surprise that dancer injuries are most commonly found in the lower extremities given the nature of the artform and movement patterns. More specifically, for ballet, these injuries most often occur in the ankle and foot.
So how do we prevent injuries? Well...we really can’t prevent them. A better way to look at this is how can you lower your risk to being injured? A risk factor when it comes to injuries is something that increases your chance or likelihood of getting injured. Although research in dance medicine is ongoing, there are studies that suggest forcing turnout, poor alignment, growth and maturation, excessive joint mobility, imbalances in strength and flexibility, fatigue, impaired aerobic conditioning, psychological stressors, and previous injury are linked to injury. Injuries in theory are thought to be from a combination of multiple variables vs one single factor. The hope is that continued research will help continue to shed light on the factors that have the highest influence to dancers sustaining injury.
Here are some tips from a physical therapist perspective to keep in mind in efforts to potentially lower your risk to injury:
The Value of Relative Rest: dance is year-round with typically no designated “off season” or set isolated conditioning period. Dancers are constantly juggling class, rehearsal, and performances. Fatigue can influence injury risk so taking the time to relatively rest by not taking dance classes during your brief off periods is wise to allow your body to recover. A health care provider, who understands dance, can help you specifically design what other non-dance activity and exercise will help during this period to avoid regressing.
Cross Training/Conditioning: Decreased aerobic conditioning can also influence injury risk. Technique class by nature can be “stop and go” as you have brief periods of practicing the skill, then brief periods of learning the next combination, sequence, or bit of choreography. When it comes to performance, a dance piece can last 15-30 minutes and may even be continuous moderate intensity movement for concert dance/modern performances. You want to condition your body for this outside of the classroom so your body can have the aerobic capacity to stay strong through the whole piece.
Recognize the Impact of Other Stressors: Poor sleep patterns and psychological stress can influence your injury risk. It's important to be aware of this and take action or seek help for ways to effectively manage stress long term. This will create an opportunity for better overall functioning and sleep quality which will allow you to control your health more wholistically and allow the body to recover.
Correct Faulty Dance Technique/Control: The art of movement whether it be the shape, line, or gesture is part of what makes dance so beautiful to watch. A dancer who is still maturing and developing may have less than optimal ways of moving that place added stress and strain on joints and ligaments that can cumulatively lead to pain and injury. Working with a dance teacher or movement specialist/trainer who understands dancers can help correct patterns to ensure load and force is being distributed and absorbed through the entire body vs getting localized into one area.
It’s NOT Just About the Movement: Although it’s easy to focus on the various physical aspects of dance. There are many factors that can influence injury--the stage/floor, the shoewear, costumes….the list goes on. Don’t underestimate the influence that some of these “non-dance" dance things can have on you. Speak up if you are finding some of these elements influencing your ability to move pain-free or with ease rather than dismissing them as small things that you just have to deal with.
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Bronner, S., Bauer, N. Risk factors for musculoskeletal injury in elite pre-professional modern dancers: a prospective cohort prognostic study. Physical Therapy in Sport. 2018;31:42-51.
Kenny, Risk factors for musculoskeletal injury in preprofessional dancers: a systematic review. Br J Sports Med. 2016;50(16):997-1003.
Liederbach, M et al. Assessing and reporting dancer capacities, risk factors, and injuries-recommendations from the IADMS standard measures consensus initiative. JDMS. 2012;16(4): 139-152.
Bowerman, E. et al. Are maturation, growth, and lower extremity alignment associated with overuse injury in elite adolescent ballet dancers? Physical Therapy in Sport. 2014;15: 234-241.