Dancers have a high risk of injury, with up to 95 percent of professional dancers expected to sustain an injury during their career. However, there are things dancers can do to prevent injury and keep performing.
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Knee and back injuries are very common among ballet and jazz dancers, although the types of injuries depend on the type of dance one practices, says sports and exercise medicine physician Kim Gladden, MD. To prevent injuries, Dr. Gladden offers dancers the following tips:
1. Make sure you’ve mastered basic movements
This is the most important measure dancers can take is to prevent injury, Dr. Gladden says. “Overuse injuries are based on technique,” she says. “I see it quite commonly. Often injuries are caused by very subtle incorrect postures in training, compounded over and over.”
If you have pain with the same movement or activity repeatedly, see your doctor to find out what’s causing it. “Have the source of your pain evaluated so it doesn’t become a bigger problem,” advises Dr. Gladden.
2. Don’t move too quickly into advanced movements
Even when you’ve mastered basic movements, ease into the more advanced movements to help reduce your chance for injury. “For example,” she says, “if you don’t have a good plié, you are going to have problems with landing out of leaps.”
3. Focus hard on core strength
Core strength is vital to injury prevention. “You need to be able to activate your abdominal and back muscles to protect your lower back, knees and hips,” says Dr. Gladden. “Be very strong in your movements.”
4. Make sure you rest
“Most of the time injuries don’t need to be treated surgically,” Dr. Gladden says. “With almost any overuse injury, rest — or relative rest — is the prescribed treatment.”
At the same time, she acknowledges that complete rest may not be realistic for a professional dancer or dance teacher. “We need to protect their livelihood,” she continues, “so we modify their activity so they can stay in shape through rehabilitation, and we talk about the importance of nutrition and sleep when the body is under such high demand, as well as focusing on rehabilitation”
5. Find the dance type that fits your body
Finally, Dr. Gladden emphasizes finding a dance form that really works for you. “Try different types of dance,” she says. “Just as one runner could be a natural marathoner and another a sprinter, different body types are naturally suited to different types of dance.”
“It is very important to find a dance form that works for you, and some types of dance may be more “body kind” than others,” she says.
Why injuries – and your risk – varies
Frequently, overuse injuries from training causes knee and ankle problems. Back injuries, on the other hand, may present differently in different age ranges.. Small stress fractures caused by repeated hyperextension of the back are more common in younger dancers, while older dancers’ back ailments are most often strained muscles or mechanical back pain caused by damage to the spinal discs, joints or vertebrae.
Another common issue is strength vs. flexibility; “Naturally, we tend to be either naturally strong or naturally flexible,” says Dr. Gladden.
People who are naturally strong often have injuries related to flexibility, such as muscle pulls and tears. Those who are naturally flexible are at a greater risk for joint injuries, as they may not have the muscle strength around the joint to support it.