Dancing has become an increasingly popular form of physical activity over the past decade. Increased participation likely stems from available classes in fitness centers, as well as movies (Shall We Dance and the Step Up series) and TV shows (Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance). The health benefits of dance are undeniable, including cardiovascular fitness, weight loss, improved flexibility, stress relief and better balance. However, like most other forms of physical activity, dancers are at risk of developing both traumatic and overuse injuries.
It's no surprise that the most common dance related injuries occur in the foot and ankle, including ankle sprains, stress fractures, tendonitis and blisters. Additionally, dancers are prone to develop pain and disorders in the low back, hips and knees. Dancers that perform partner work or any lifts are also at risk for developing upper back and shoulder injuries.
There are a variety of risk factors for dance related injury and these vary depending on the type of dance being performed:
1) Improper training (lack of warm-up)
2) Poor technique (inadequate hip rotation needed for turnout)
3) Muscle imbalances (weak hip and buttock muscles)
4) Environmental hazards (hard floor, ill-fitting shoes)
5) Inadequate nutrition (disordered eating)
Ballet is considered to be the most demanding form of dance due to the long hours and careers that often start before puberty. Approximately 80% of ballet dancers sustain an injury during their careers, but recreational dancers report high rates of injury as well. For example, 1 in 4 participants of Zumba (a Colombia-inspired dance fitness program) can also lead to injury report pain in the knees, ankles or shoulders.
Dance medicine, a subset of sports or performing arts medicine, focuses on the medical and musculoskeletal issues specific to dance. Providers are skilled in treating dancers, not only on how and why they developed an injury, but also how to modify technique to minimize recurrence of the injury. For the most part, the best way to treat injured dancers is with a team approach including a physician, physical therapist and the dance teacher/instructor.
Whether you are a professional ballerina or taking a ballroom dance class for fun, it's best to see a physician trained in dance medicine for any aches and pains that develop. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent long-term problems and keep you on the dance floor.