Dance requires incredible strength, stamina, and flexibility. Broadway and touring performing artists dance an average of eight shows a week. Add to that, the countless hours in rehearsals. Their exertion level rivals, if not exceeds, that of professional athletes! Therefore, it’s not uncommon for dancers to experience pain.
Performing repetitive movements for hours a day coupled with a low amount of recovery time in between shows, increases the performer’s risk for chronic overuse injuries (in addition to the ever-present risk of an acute injury). In most cases, pain is due to muscle soreness that resolves in a day or two. However, sometimes there is something more to blame—that’s when you should see a physician or your physical therapist!
Here are some common dance injuries, including the pain associated, how to prevent and how to treat them if it occurs:
1. ANKLE SPRAINS
Ankle sprains are the most common traumatic (or acute) injury in dancers. Most dancers will experience their first sprain by age 13. This injury is caused by any movement that forces the ankle outside of the normal range of motion, resulting in an overstretching or in tears to the ligaments of the ankle.
Pain: acute onset with pain on the inside or outside of the ankle, swelling and bruising may be present in more severe cases
Prevention: 4-way ankle exercises, hip strengthening
Treatment: RICE, joint protection, early mobility, physical therapy
PT is extremely important because the ligaments will never heal back to the pre-injury level. Therefore, strength and motor control must be improved in order to avoid re-injury.
2. ACHILLES TENDONITIS
Achilles tendonitis is an inflammation of the tendon in the back of the ankle that connects the prime mover for pointing to your foot. As the Achilles is active during relevé and pointing the foot, this overuse injury is quite common in dancers, especially those utilizing improper technique or participating in excessive training.
Pain: gradual onset of pain and tenderness just above the heel which may feel better when warmed up, but worse with jumping, relevé, or pointe work