Dance is a challenging activity, one that requires a physical and mental mastery equal to or
exceeding that of most sports. Dance bridges the worlds of art and athletics and because of this, it has seldom been the focus of traditional injury prevention or strength and conditioning programs. This is beginning to change as a growing body of research and practical experience show the benefits of injury prevention for dancers.
As with any athletic activity, dance carries with it the risk of injury. Somewhere between 84-95% of dancers will suffer from an injury at some time during their career.2,5,9 In a professional setting, rate of injury can rise. A study of a professional New York ballet company revealed an average injury rate of almost 7 injuries per dancer during a one year period.1 While these numbers may come as a shock, it is important to note that dance is still very safe and does not carry higher risks than most sports. What the research does show is our ability to make dance safer by incorporating a few key concepts from the realm of sports medicine and strength & conditioning. Below I have included my 5 pillars for staying healthy as a dancer.
1. Healthy Classes
This may seem obvious, but the best place to start avoiding dance injuries is in your dance class. Take 5-10 minutes to warm up before each class. Don’t perform any challenging dance movements before you are fully warmed up. Focus on your form, the majority of dance injuries are overuse injuries caused by improper form. “Sickling”, “winging”, and “rolling in” the feet, valgus collapse at the knee, excessive flexion at the hips and poor spinal posture are all common variations of poor form that can lead to injury. Ask your instructor to evaluate your form and focus on making the corrections they suggest.
2. Appropriate Conditioning
Physical activity outside of dance has been shown to decrease your chance of getting injured on the dance floor. A regular aerobic and strength training routine will not only help to keep you injury free, but also improve your dance. You don’t need to become a body builder to reap the benefits of strength training. A 2004 study which had professional ballerinas start on a strength training program showed a significant increase in strength without a measurable increase in muscle mass.4 A strength and conditioning coach or personal trainer is a great resource to get you started.
3. Safe Environment
Where you dance and what type of clothing and footwear you use plays an important part in keeping you injury free. Make sure you are wearing properly fitting footwear that is appropriate for your style of dance. Avoid dancing on hard concrete floors or in an environment where the floor surface is not uniform. Ensure you are comfortable with any props or costumes before you get on stage.
4. Healthy Eating
A healthy diet is the fuel that keeps your body running at its best. Without adequate nutrition your body is unable to fuel your performance or keep your body tissues in good repair. Inadequate caloric intake or a diet missing key nutrients is associated with an increased risk of injury. A sports nutritionist can help you understand your dietary needs and ensure that you are eating a well-rounded diet.
5. Adequate Rest and Recovery
Sleep is one of the most important factors in your body’s ability to recover from physical challenges. Getting less than 8 hours of sleep causes a physical and cognitive decline which has been shown to almost double the risk of injury in adolescent athletes.6 Stress is another factor that has been correlated with dance injury.3,7 Taking time each day to relax or meditate, will help you get better sleep and reduce your stress levels.
By building your dance practice on these five pillars you will be able to minimize your risk of injury and keep dancing for many years to come. Feel free to contact our clinic if you would like more information on incorporating a personalized injury prevention program or for help managing a current injury.
- Allen N, Nevill A, Brooks J, Koutedakis Y, Wyon M. Ballet injuries: injury incidence and severity over 1 year. JOSPT. 2012 (42):781-90
- Bowling A. Injuries to dancers: prevalence, treatment, and perceptions of causes. BMJ. 1989;298(6675):731–734.
- Hamilton LH, Hamilton WG, Meltzer JD, Marshall P, Molnar M. Personality, stress, and injuries in professional ballet dancers. Am J Sports Med. 1989;17(2):263–267.
- Koutedakis Y, Sharp NC. Thigh-muscles strength training, dance exercise, dynamometry, and anthropometry in professional ballerinas. J Strength Cond Res. 2004;18(4):714–718.
- Luke AC, Kinney SA, D’Hemecourt PA, Baum J, Owen M, Micheli LJ. Determinants of injuries in young dancers. Med Probl Perform Art. 2002;17(3):105–112.
- Milewski MD, Skaggs DL, Bishop GA, Pace JL, Ibrahim DA, Wren TA, Barzdukas A. Chronic Lack of Sleep is Associated With Increased Sports Injuries in Adolescent Athletes. J Pediatr Orthop. 2014 Mar;34(2):129-33.
- Patterson EL, Smith RE, Everett JJ, Ptacek JT. Psychosocial factors as predictors of ballet injuries: interactive effects of life stress and social support. J Sport Behav. 1998;21(1):101–112.
- Russell J. Preventing Dance Injuries: current perspectives. Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine. 2013 Sept 30; 4:199-210
- Thomas H, Tarr J. Dancers’ perceptions of pain and injury: positive and negative effects. J Dance Med Sci. 2009;13(2):51–59.