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How can we prevent dance injuries ?

How can we prevent dance injuries ?

One of the most common questions I get asked as a physiotherapist with a special interest in dance rehabilitation and injury prevention is, “How can we prevent dance injuries?”.

GOOD QUESTION!

It’s a very valid question considering:

  • the rate of injury in young and adolescent dancers is higher than that reported in young soccer players or gymnasts
  • the injury rate of dancers aged between 9 -18 years is even higher than that of professional ballet and contemporary dancers!4,7

Why do dance injuries occur?

First, let’s take a look at why dance injuries happen.

The reason for young dancers reporting more injuries than their counterparts in other sports is partly due to growth spurts in this age group, coupled with the high physical demands of dance. There are also numerous other factors that have been identified as risks for injury. Some are intrinsic – related to the individual such as growth, hormones or previous injuries1 – and others are extrinsic or external, such as environmental factors like dance floors, equipment or training load.2 Research on both intrinsic and extrinsic risk factors, and their relationship to dance injuries is a growing area of research and hence, more information will continue to emerge.

There does seem to be a growing consensus that the majority of dance injuries in ballet dancers is due to overuse3,6,9. Dancers are familiar with the repetitive nature of dance training – having to repeat a move over and over again in order to learn and perfect a new skill or piece of choreography. This can prove somewhat tricky to manage among aspiring young dancers. In addition to this, the rigors of dance can increase at particular times of the year4, and we certainly see more injured dancers here in clinic around exam and performance periods.

What are the most common injuries for dancers?

In young dancers of ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop, contemporary, ballroom and Irish dancing, it may be no surprise that the lower limb (leg) is most commonly injured. This includes the knee, ankle and foot – with rate of occurrence in that order – followed by the hip and spine. Ligaments tend to be the most commonly injured soft tissue, with muscles and tendons making up about 30% of injuries, while bone injuries make up around 20% of all injuries.5

Acute versus chronic dance injuries

Traumatic injuries are usually referred to as acute injuries, while injuries relating to overuse are often longer lasting or slowly developing injuries, referred to as chronic injuries. Research has shown that the majority of injuries sustained by young ballet dancers are of the ‘overuse’ type, with more than three quarters of all injuries falling into this category.6 With overuse-type injuries, the dancer is usually unable to pinpoint exactly what caused the injury and often reports pain increasing over time. Tendinopathy and bone stress reaction/stress fractures are examples of this type of injury, typically caused by repetitive stress and/or overloading.  Other causes of chronic injuries can be structural or genetic in nature, such as hyperextended knees usually seen in the hypermobile population.

Acute injuries are usually a result of an “accident”. Examples of an acute injury are a slip on the floor or landing poorly from a jump, resulting in a muscle strain or ankle sprain.

So, what can we do to help prevent dance injuries?

Accidents do happen, however the majority of dance injuries can be prevented, and there are ways of reducing a dancer’s risk of injury.15 Some of the ways we can help reduce the risk of dance injuries are:

Dance Screenings or Dance Profiles

Dance screenings have long been performed by qualified physiotherapists to identify areas of weakness or concern, with the aim being to prevent dance injuries. Pre-pointe assessments or pre-pointe profiling (a term we prefer) is a good example. Although there is not a great consensus as to what elements and tests can accurately predict who is more likely to be injured, it is highly beneficial in identifying possible risk factors and facilitating improvements in strength and technique.

Screening dancers should not be limited to girls wishing to progress onto pointe. Research shows male dancers sustain dance injuries at the same rate as females, and as they mature, male dancers require higher levels of dance strength and flexibility. It is therefore a logical course of action that, during the important period of growth and adolescence, young men undertake a dance profile to identify any potential injury risks and develop appropriate and individualised training goals.

A good time of year to undertake a screening is during the school holidays. During this period, the student usually has more time to address any strength or flexibility deficits that may have been identified by the physiotherapist. They can use the extra time over the holidays to focus on these areas and begin the year a step ahead.

Check out the dance environment for potential injury risks

Acute injuries are sometimes a result of an environmental factor, and are therefore preventable. For example, purpose-built dance floors are an extremely important factor for keeping a dancer safe. Checking the floors for spills or items that may cause injury is another way of preventing accidents. Wearing properly fitting clothing and professionally fitted shoes appropriate to the style of dance can also help prevent environment-related injuries.

Always warm up before dancing

It is vital that dancers warm up before class, rehearsal or performance – skipping a warm up can lead to injury. The goal of a warm up is to raise the heartrate, warm up the muscles and mobilise the joints. This should be a gradual process conducted in phases. First a light sweat should be achieved by raising the heartrate and getting the big muscles working, for example, jogging, skipping or lunges. Then, dynamic stretches should be done.

It’s important, especially for young dancers, to understand that static stretches should not be done in early warm up. Static stretches should instead be left for the end of class, during cool-down.

Keep your body Dance-Fit with an individualized dance conditioning and exercise program

Individualized conditioning programs have been shown to reduce the rate of injury in professional dancers.7 These types of programs are created using information obtained during the dance profile, and takes into consideration the dancer’s history and previous injuries. Historically, supplementary strength and conditioning programs were avoided by ballet dancers,  who were concerned that this type of training would result in reduced flexibility or a non-aesthetic physique. There is, however, little evidence supporting this theory, and this opinion has now mostly been replaced by integrating elements from sports research showing the benefit of such programs8 with a dance-specific approach. Physiotherapists, especially those with extensive dance knowledge, are perfectly placed to guide  young dancers in their supplemental training.

Get enough rest and monitor your loading to help prevent dance injuries 

Finally, and of great importance to young dancers, is rest and load management. Since research shows ‘overuse’ as the main cause of injury in young dancers, monitoring their loading is of paramount importance.9-10 Young athletes who train in the same sport for more hours per week than their age (in years), were shown to have 70 percent more overuse injuries13. Furthermore, a 2014 study showed that young athletes who had less than 8 hours of sleep each night were more likely to sustain injuries than those who slept 8 hours or more.14

 

So, a short answer to the question of how to prevent dance injuries is….

Ensure the young dancer has a healthy dance schedule, has been screened for deficits and potential injury risks, and has an individualised conditioning program.

The dancer, as well as their family, dance teachers and health professionals, all need to work together to help the young dancer remain as injury-free and healthy as possible!

For more information about PhysioTec’s Dance Physiotherapy services, including dance screenings and pre-point profiling, injury rehabilitiation or dance-specific strength and conditioning, click here or call 3342 4384 to book an appointment with Joanne Manning.

 

References

  1. Kenny SJ, Whittaker JL, Emery CA. Risk factors for musculoskeletal injury in preprofessional dancers: a systematic review. Br J Sports Med. 2016;50(16):997–1003.
  2. Russell JA. Preventing dance injuries: current perspectives. Open Access J Sports Med. 2013;4:199–210.
  3. Leanderson C, Leanderson J, Wykman A, Strender LE, Johansson SE, Sundquist K. Musculoskeletal injuries in young ballet dancers. Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc. 2011;19(9):1531–5.
  4. Prevention of Injuries in the Young Dancer (Contemporary Pediatric and Adolescent Sports Medicine). Springer International Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  5. Fuller M, Moyle GM, Hunt AP, Minett GM. Injuries during transition periods across the year in pre-professional and professional ballet and contemporary dancers: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Phys Ther Sport. 2020 Apr 3;44:14-23.
  6. Shah S, Weiss DS, Burchette RJ. Injuries in professional modern dancers: incidence, risk factors, and management. J Dance Med Sci. 2012;16(1):17–25.
  7. Steinberg N, Aujla I, Zeev A, Redding E. Injuries among talented young dancers: findings from the U.K. Centres for advanced Training. Int J Sports Med. 2014;35(3):238–44.
  8. Faigenbaum AD, Kraemer WJ, Blimkie CJ, Jeffreys I, Micheli LJ, Nitka M, et al. Youth resistance training: updated position statement paper from the national strength and conditioning association. J Strength Cond Res. 2009;23(5 Suppl):S60–79.
  9. Prevention of Injuries in the Young Dancer (Contemporary Pediatric and Adolescent Sports Medicine). Springer International Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  10. Allen N, Nevill AM, Brooks JH, Koutedakis Y, Wyon MA. The effect of a comprehensive injury audit program on injury incidence in ballet: a 3-year prospective study. Clin J Sport Med. 2013;23(5):373–8.
  11. Ekegren CL, Quested R, Brodrick A. Injuries in pre-professional ballet dancers: incidence, characteristics and consequences. J Sci Med sport. 2014;17(3):271–5.