Guest Post: Dancer Injuries — What You Need to Know

My col­league Deb­o­rah Vogel has more than 30 years expe­ri­ence in dance med­i­cine, train­ing dancers and oth­er per­form­ing artists in self-care, align­ment and injury pre­ven­tion.

She pro­vides exten­sive resources and “how-to” videos on her blog The Body Series.

She’s gra­cious­ly allowed me to repub­lish one of her arti­cles — Dance Injury Pre­ven­tion Infor­ma­tion — which can help you (even if you’re not a dancer) under­stand when an injury is poten­tial­ly seri­ous or when it’s just a “nor­mal” part of being a phys­i­cal­ly active per­son.

Dance Injury Prevention Information — Deborah Vogel

How do we dis­tin­guish between an injury and the nor­mal “wear and tear” of being a dancer? This is a ques­tion that dancers and dance teach­ers face on a dai­ly basis. We have to con­stant­ly eval­u­ate the body’s mes­sages and thus make choic­es either to rest or to keep going.

When in doubt, seek the advice of a qual­i­fied med­ical prac­ti­tion­er. You’ll want to err on the side of cau­tion if you have any ques­tions regard­ing the treat­ment of a poten­tial injury. We must teach our dancers to trust the body’s mes­sages. This takes time and expe­ri­ence.

Here are some guide­lines that you can use to help eval­u­ate whether you are deal­ing with an injury.

Four Warning Signs of an Injury

  • Pain that gets pro­gres­sive­ly worse dur­ing class, rehearsal, work out, etc.
  • Pain that comes after your class, rehearsal, or work out and comes back the next day after less move­ment is done.
  • Pain that appears when exe­cut­ing cer­tain move­ments (e.g. dur­ing arabesque or land­ing a jump).
  • No real sense of “pain” but a def­i­nite restric­tion of move­ment.

Handling an Injury

If the injury is acute and you can pin­point the event that trig­gered it (e.g. you land­ed on a sick­led foot, you fell out of a leap, your part­ner elbowed your ribcage, you felt some­thing snap, or you have instant dis­col­oration) apply ice, stop mov­ing, and get to a doc­tor. If your injury doesn’t fall into an acute cat­e­go­ry, the fol­low­ing infor­ma­tion applies to you.

How an injury feels when mov­ing can tell you a lot. If going back to class helps the injury feel a lit­tle bet­ter or less sore, great. Just remem­ber to respect your body’s lim­its dur­ing class until you are feel­ing 100 %. If mov­ing irri­tates the injury or makes it feel worse, get smart. Most injuries can be short cir­cuit­ed in the ear­ly stages. Dancers, in gen­er­al, have a high pain tol­er­ance and need to be giv­en per­mis­sion to take care of them­selves either by tak­ing off from class, sleep­ing, get­ting a mas­sage, or by answer­ing any oth­er of the body’s requests.

Some­times a dancer will begin to feel chron­ic pain in either the mus­cles or a joint. Typ­i­cal­ly, chron­ic pain in the mus­cles is caused by exces­sive ten­sion. In turn, this ten­sion is gen­er­al­ly caused by skele­tal dis­place­ment (poor align­ment). As a result, the mus­cles must work con­stant­ly to both move and sup­port the dancer. Chron­ic pain in the joint is often due to con­stant irri­ta­tion caused by mus­cu­lar ten­sion or a mechan­i­cal mis­align­ment with­in the joints (again, poor align­ment). As all dancers know, align­ment com­plete­ly under­lies one’s abil­i­ty to move effi­cient­ly and “injury free”.

Dance injuries often start in small ways. They sneak up on you. Most dancers with chron­ic injuries are not the ones who sprained their ankles while being low­ered from a lift. The cause of their injuries is more dif­fi­cult to deci­pher. Their com­plaints (as fol­lows) are less clear: “My arabesque is not as high as it used to be”; “My hip is click­ing when I low­er from a front devel­oppe’”; “My low­er back is aching. I’m not sure when it start­ed, but now I can’t do my port de bras back­wards”. These are the more nor­mal, chron­ic “overuse” injuries described in the four ear­li­er sce­nar­ios. These injuries need to be respect­ed before they spi­ral into more debil­i­tat­ing prob­lems.

Chron­ic injuries are more chal­leng­ing and frus­trat­ing to work with, espe­cial­ly if you are in a per­for­mance sit­u­a­tion that demands a cer­tain work­load or in a demand­ing sched­ule that is hard to change. This is when hav­ing indi­vid­u­al­ized guid­ance from a dance med­i­cine spe­cial­ist is impor­tant. Over time you will begin to see pat­terns in how your body feels, and you will be bet­ter able to pre­vent chron­ic strains and injuries.

The first step is to lis­ten care­ful­ly and hon­est­ly to your body (not in a hypochon­dri­ac fash­ion). This will both help you become a bet­ter dancer and/or a bet­ter teacher. If you notice recur­rent pat­terns of strain or if you feel the same type of pain in an area while doing dif­fer­ent types of move­ment, write them down. Keep a note­book handy to jot down which move­ments pro­voke a painful response. See if you can find any sim­i­lar­i­ties among the move­ments in order to deter­mine a cause.

  • Are you con­sis­tent­ly get­ting injured dur­ing the per­for­mance sea­son?
  • Is the chore­og­ra­phy you are danc­ing repeat­ing the same or sim­i­lar move­ments on one side of your body?
  • Are you demon­strat­ing the same side all the time when teach­ing?

Ask your teacher or anoth­er pro­fes­sion­al to watch you exe­cute these move­ments in order to see if you are mak­ing a com­pen­sa­tion that could cause pain. If you can’t find a pain free adjust­ment to the move­ment on your own, see a dance med­i­cine spe­cial­ist and bring your notes with you. If you pro­vide a com­plete pic­ture, the eval­u­a­tion will be more ben­e­fi­cial.

Don’t deny your body’s expe­ri­ence. The goal is to learn how to eval­u­ate and work with your own unique set of kines­thet­ic feed­back. Your teach­ers can pro­vide guid­ance, but ulti­mate­ly, it is the dancer that is in charge of cre­at­ing the nec­es­sary changes in order to dance effort­less­ly and grace­ful­ly, with­out cre­at­ing pain or dam­ag­ing the phys­i­cal struc­tures of the body.

It can be chal­leng­ing for dancers to admit that chron­ic prob­lems can eas­i­ly turn into acute ones. Gen­er­al­ly, acute injuries are obvi­ous ones. For exam­ple, if you rup­ture your achilles ten­don, you are not going to get up off the floor and dance. How­ev­er, if you have achilles ten­donitis, you may still be able to dance (although prob­a­bly not at 100% capac­i­ty). Fur­ther­more, if you aren’t care­ful with your rehab, you run the risk of rup­tur­ing the ten­don.

Oth­er exam­ples of acute injuries might be ten­don rup­tures, dis­lo­ca­tions (patel­la and shoul­ders gen­er­al­ly), lig­a­ment sprains, and inflamed bur­sae. Some­times acute injuries devel­op from “overuse” injuries that have not been reha­bil­i­tat­ed appro­pri­ate­ly. For exam­ple, a stress frac­ture is con­sid­ered an “overuse” injury because it can take a peri­od of time to devel­op. How­ev­er, a stress frac­ture should be con­sid­ered an acute injury that needs imme­di­ate atten­tion once it has been diag­nosed by a med­ical prac­ti­tion­er. I have seen cas­es of achilles ten­donitis become shin splints, which in turn become a chron­ic knee or hip prob­lem because the orig­i­nal ten­donitis was not cared for prop­er­ly.

The bot­tom line is both the acute and “overuse” injuries are injuries and should be treat­ed as such! Pay atten­tion to the warn­ing signs of an injury, and you will pre­vent the more seri­ous reper­cus­sions of an acute injury. Get­ting to know the body’s pat­terns and mus­cu­lar imbal­ances and then address­ing those imbal­ances is the best way to pre­vent injuries.


Deepen Your Body of Knowledge

The Body Series by Deb­o­rah Vogel

Self-Care Secrets for Mus­cle and Joint Pain

Dancers Know Best — Opti­mum Rehab for the Hip, Knee, Ankle or Foot


About Ronald Lavine, D.C.

Dr. Lavine has more than thirty five years' experience helping patients alleviate pain and restore health using diverse, scientifically-based manual therapy and therapeutic exercise and alignment methods. His website,, provides more information about his approach. Please contact him at or at 212-400-9663.
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