Competition season is here. And all the dancers, are rushing through their rehearsal schedules. Planning your dance rehearsal schedules and managing everything along with it is not an easy task, and the last thing you need is an injury that puts everything to a grinding halt.
Whether you are a dancer, a dance parent or a dance teacher, the competition rehearsal phase is when you come across a lot of injuries. To an audience, the dance does look effortless, but it requires a lot of flexibility, strength, and stamina. Up to 95% of professional dancers are expected to sustain an injury during their career.
With intensive training, no time to recover between rehearsals, and having no "off-season"; there are other factors like restrictive diets, and sometimes unhealthy body weights, that increase the risk of an injury for dancers.
It’s not just the older dancers who are at risk. Young dancers with their supple bodies, graceful movements, and fast recovery are more at risk too.
According to a Study, the most common injuries for dancers involve the knee, with 40.4% of young dancers (<10 years of age) suffered from it. In fact, almost 43% of the dancers had one previous injury with increased susceptibility to back and hip injuries in the future.
Common Dance Injuries during Competition Season
Irrespective of age, the primary cause of all injuries is overuse. While rehearsals, most dancers tend to go one extra step and the overuse can cause ankle and knee problems. Back injuries, however, varies in different age ranges. Small stress fractures caused by hyperextension of the back are more common in young dancers, while for older dancers, back ailments like strained muscles or back pain caused by damage to spinal discs, joints or vertebrae is more common.
Injuries are also dependent on the type of dance one practices. For example, knee and back injuries are widespread among ballet and jazz dancers.
The physical demands placed on the bodies of dancers during competition rehearsals makes them as susceptible to injuries as athletes and football players during the playoffs. Most dancers begin dancing at the age of five or six. The repetitive practice of movements requires a lot of flexibility, strength, and endurance. Therefore, the vast majority of dance injuries are a result of overuse.
Apart from overuse injuries, there are traumatic injuries, which happen unexpectedly. Injuries like an ankle sprain, ligament tear are common due to improper landing from a jump, misaligned ankles or poorly fitted shoes. The worst part is, torn ligaments never heal back to their pre-injury phase, and when you have sprained your ankle, you are at a higher risk of doing it again.
Here are some of the most common dance injuries:
- Neck strain
- Hip injuries
- Foot & ankle injuries
- Knee injuries
- Stress fractures
- Dancers are also likely to develop early arthritis in the knee, hip, ankle, and foot.
Common dance injuries
|General Cause||Specific Cause||Can it be altered/reversed/ cured?|
|Improper training||Lack of warm-up exercise routine||Yes|
|Poor Alignment of body weight||Yes|
|Faulty Technique||“Sickling” (Forefoot/hindfoot varus in demi-pointe or en-pointe)||Yes|
|“Winging”( Forefoot/hindfoot valgus in demi-pointe or en-pointe)||Yes|
|“Rolling in” (foot hyperpronation)||Yes|
|Poor Turnout (Inadequate hip external rotation)||Somewhat|
|Anterior pelvic tilt||Yes|
|Environmental Hazards||Hard Floors, ill-fitting shoes||Yes, (Depending on facility)|
|Barefoot Dancing||Depends on dance genre and instructor|
|Structural deformity of the foot||Flat foot/high arch||No, but treatable|
|Bio-mechanical Imbalance||Poor core strength||Yes|
|Weak leg muscles||Yes|
|Pelvic muscle imbalance or inflexibility||Yes|
|Tight Achilles’ tendon||Somewhat|
How can you Prevent Dance Injuries?
Dancers who are free of injury can enjoy the rigors of rehearsals and can perform better at the competition. A dancer's success at a competition is dependent on a lot of factors, and there is a team of parents, teachers, medical professionals and teammates who can keep dancers going on their toes and achieving success.
These are some handy tips which can help dancers prevent injury:
Practice and master basic movements and correct technique: Overuse injuries are based mainly on technique. Very subtle incorrect postures during training, repeated over and over have a compounding effect later on. The concept of “No Pain No Gain” is not a healthy approach to dancing. If you have pain while performing some basic movement repeatedly, consult a doctor and get it evaluated before it becomes a bigger problem
Do not push too fast too soon: If you think you have mastered basic movements, you might find it tempting to rush into advanced movements. Make sure you ease into advanced movements before just pushing your body limits. For example, you might think you have a great plie, but when you rush into learning to land out of leaps too fast, you might get injured.
Focus on core strength: Your core strength is vital to prevent injuries. You should be able to activate your abdominal and back muscles and protect your lower back, knee, and hips. Your core strength will help you maintain strong movements all throughout the dance, and also help maintain a better posture.
- Rest! Don’t dance through pain and fatigue: Ask any doctor, and the best remedy for any overuse injury is rest. Though complete rest may not be a possibility, during competition season, you can still work on your nutrition and sleep, so your body can get time to recover.
- Focus on nutrition and fluids: Eat well and stay hydrated before, during and after each dance practice. Leading a healthy lifestyle helps you get to know your body better. You can recover from most of the overuse and even some traumatic injuries through better nutrient intake. Vitamins and minerals derived from food help your tired muscles and joints recover/ rebuild themselves.
Wear properly fitting clothes and shoes- Well-fitting, comfortable clothes and shoes that flex and point along with your toes are the need of the hour for every dancer. Don't cut corners when it comes to investing in the right shoes and dancewear. Clothes that are stretchable, comfortable and durable, sturdy shoes are a must for every dancer. Also, know when is the time to replace your dance shoes, because if a small malfunction during practice might cost you dearly in the form of an injury.
Build strength and stamina in all parts of your body: Through proper conditioning; make sure that you focus not just on a specific problem area, but your overall body. For example, you may wish to improve your arches for that perfect Pointe, but unless your leg muscles are strong enough, and your body feels nimble, all your efforts are pointless. Do cross-training exercises that help build strength and endurance in all parts of your body. Perform warm-ups and cool-downs religiously. Avoid over-training and yo-yo workouts, i.e., one day you go for the extreme while the next day is complete rest.
Try different types of dance: Just like athletes, where one could be a natural marathoner, and another a sprinter, different body types are naturally suited to different kinds of dance. Not all of us can do a perfect pirouette; neither can everyone do a full split. Find a dance form that really works for you. Some types of dance may be more demanding to your body than others. Focus on what you can do best with your physical limitations and make the most of what you naturally have.
Listen to medical practitioner: You may be prescribed R.I.C.E while it's a weekend and you need to attend the dance night at the local club. But remember that your medical professional, physio, or your doctor not only treats your dance-related injury but also helps in preventing them. Your physical therapists can help screen you to help identify potential problems and even prevent future injuries. They are a natural part of your career as a dancer and help you stay healthy. You should follow their advice religiously and return to dancing after an injury when they have cleared you for it.
Attention parents, teachers, trainers!
Your role in making sure your little dancer is injury free during and after competition season cannot be over-emphasized. Be careful not to encourage your children to advance to higher levels of training at an unsafe rate. Especially in ballet, parents should ensure that unless the child’s feet and ankles develop enough strength, Pointe training should not be initiated. Remember that strength and maturity are more important than age.
Be aware of any nutritional or psychological changes that the children display. In a race to conform to an unhealthy dance image- like perfect washboard abs, children might fall prey to eating disorders, disruptive menstruation and many such counterproductive side effects of dance that can be easily avoided.
Finally- The first line of defense against any dance injury is the dance instructors themselves. It is the responsibility of instructors to establish a class environment where students should be comfortable telling them when they are injured or need a break. Instructors should make it mandatory for each student to perform warm-ups and cool-downs, and use proper conditioning and technique equipment. Dance teachers are the first to know which dancer is ready to move on to the next level, whether by age or maturity.
A dance injury is a minor hiccup in your competition journey. It is your body’s way of telling you to slow down and observe where you are going. Treat injuries as a necessary reminder to correct your course. As they always say, prevention is better than cure, and preventing an injury is much more advisable than having to manage it. Therefore, make sure that you stay safe so you can keep dancing and give your best at the competition!
We provide general information only and the information shared here is not a substitute for your own good judgment or consultation with a physician.
Additional Sources: www.imis.sportsmed.org