A dance degree teaches a dancer not only about technique, choreography, history and pedagogy, but also how to prevent injuries. As a dancer, it is important that you take care of your body the best you can in order to avoid injuries, and also that you stay healthy so you can get through long days of classes, rehearsals or performances.
Although you may understand how to avoid injuries, they unfortunately can still happen. Dancers sustain injuries to the knees and hips, most commonly, but it is not uncommon to see back or shoulder injuries as well, especially if a dancer is training rigorously for hours in the studio.
At Grand Canyon University (GCU), not only will you learn about the most common injuries for dancers, but you will also learn the best ways to reduce your risk for injury as well as what to do if you find yourself injured.
Most Common Dance Injuries
When looking at the different injuries dancers are susceptible to — due primarily to the extensive physical exertion involved in their craft — many are caused by improper alignment and overuse. In your technique classes at GCU, your teachers will talk about proper form and alignment. For example, they may tell you to keep your shoulders over your pelvis and your pelvis over your knees, as well as keeping your knees in line with your ankles, when performing a plié.
If you do not maintain proper alignment, you may cause wear and tear on your knees over time, causing injuries that could prematurely end your dance career. Here are some of the most common injuries that dancers experience:
Lower Body Dance Injuries
Lower body dance injuries include:
- Hip impingement: Hip impingement occurs when the ball of the femur is pushed up and pinches the acetabulum (cartilage) in the hip socket. The impingement of the ball and socket joint in the hip is can contribute to stiffness, muscle pain, atrophy and decreased performance that often is felt when the hip is brought into extreme flexion.3 This injury could end your dance career if left untreated; a hip arthroscopy may be a beneficial treatment if the pain becomes severe.
- Sacroiliac (SI) joint dysfunction: SI joint pain is sometimes little more than slight discomfort, but more often it causes intense pain felt in the SI joints, which are located where the lower part of the spine (the sacrum) connects to the pelvis. SI joint dysfunction can create pain that can range from slight discomfort to intense pain felt along the SI joint. The pain can be aggravated by prolonged, repetitive movement and pain can be reduced by avoiding activity (especially activity that worsens the pain), taking over-the-counter pain medication and applying ice or heat.
- Cartilage tears: The most common injury to cartilage in the knees is a tear of the meniscus. Typically, injuries to the meniscus are caused by rotating and twisting actions. As dancers, we can take proper precautions by making sure we are using proper technique and alignment when performing such rotational or spiraling movements.
- Shin splints: This injury is commonly sustained by dancing on a hard surface, especially one without shock absorption. Placing stress on the leg for a long period of time or using improper technique may also cause such injuries.
- Snapping hip syndrome: This injury is characterized by a snapping or popping noise in the hip joint, as well as some tenderness or pain in that area especially with repetitive use. Essentially, this injury is the result of muscle or tendon moving over the hip bone with external rotation. This is a long-term injury that may be treated through massage, stretching, physical therapy and strengthening the hips and core.
Foot and Ankle Injuries
Foot and ankle injuries include:
- Ankle sprains: Caused by overstretching the ligaments in the ankle and foot beyond their range of motion (ROM), ankle sprains his can cause instability in the joint, allowing for a rolling action of the ankle to occur more easily. If left untreated, an ankle sprain could turn into a ligament tear.
- Achilles tendonitis: This injury results from overuse of the tendon that assists in pointing the feet. A common symptom is inflammation on the back of the calf and/or heel. It is often the result of improper training with the feet (overstretching, pronating, or supinating the foot, or progressively performing repetitive movements involving the ankle with movements such as the petite allegro or other jumps without proper warm-up.
- Trigger toe: This injury involves damage to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the foot and toes (most commonly the big toe due to dancing en pointe) and can be identified by pain along the inside of the ankle and under the foot.
- Dancer’s fracture: This is a fracture to the fifth metatarsal in the foot. This injury is usually sustained when a dancer rolls their ankle while dancing on their toes.
The metatarsals, tibia, sesamoids and lumbar spine are areas most commonly affected by stress fractures in dancers. A stress fracture can be caused by increasing your training intensity too quickly, dancing on hard floors, low energy levels and fatigue, and/or nutritional and hormonal factors. Making sure that you are getting proper rest, eating healthily, and training safely will be key to avoiding stress fractures.
Dancers’ knees, ankles, hips and feet are most susceptible to arthritis. Arthritis is inflammation in the joints that is often caused by plantar fasciitis, hyperextension and scoliosis.
Dance Injury Prevention
As a dancer, it is vital to take care of yourself physically, mentally and emotionally. Most injuries are caused by repetition of movement or strain on certain joints in the body, therefore, we want to make sure that you do the following things as you pursue a long-lasting career in dance:
- Wear proper shoes and clothing for dance class. Make sure that your joints are properly supported for the style of dance you are performing.
- Warm up and cool down before and after practice. Make sure you are taking initiative to stretch, roll out your muscles, and warm up or cool down your muscles to avoid muscle soreness or injury, and make sure that proper form can be achieved in other classes.
- Practice on suitable dance flooring. Sprung floors are the most suitable for dancers because they provide shock absorption, allowing the dancers to jump with less risk of injury.
- Build strength and endurance through cross-training. Consider complementing your dance training with strength and endurance training. This will help you avoid muscle imbalances while increasing joint support and stability. Pilates is one of the best forms of cross-training for dancers!
- Take care to ensure that you are using proper form and technique in class. Being observant of your technique is key in avoiding injury.
- Eat a well-balanced diet and stay hydrated. Make sure you eat foods that will properly fuel your body, and avoid consuming foods that are not nourishing to the body. Staying hydrated is also necessary to keep your body functioning properly through those long days of training.
- Avoid overtraining and get enough rest. Take rest days to let your body — and mind —reset. Training too intensively or not taking rest days can lead to burnout and increased risk for injury.
- Get to know your body and understand how it functions. It is important that you listen to your body and give it what it needs! It is best not to push your body beyond what it wants to do.
What To Do if You Sustain an Injury
Injuries in dance are not completely avoidable, so if you do suffer an injury, take the following steps to help get yourself back on track:
- Use the RICE treatment method: rest, ice, compression and elevation
- After a few days, alternate heat with ice to increase blood flow to the injured area
- Consult an athletic trainer to help assess your injury and provide a treatment plan
- Do not ice before dancing or stretching to avoid reinjuring yourself
As a physical art form, dance can take a great toll on the body over time, so it is important to educate yourself on injury prevention and what to do if you sustain a dance-related injury.
A dance degree will certainly help you better understand your body — the way your muscles function, how they are structurally built, and how you can better take care of your body and respond to injuries if they occur. As a dancer, your body is your most important tool for creating beautiful art — so take good care of it!
Are you considering a dance education? Grand Canyon University offers a Bachelor of Arts in Dance degree program that helps you grow your skills and knowledge.
1 John Hopkins Medicine, Common Dance Injuries and Prevention Tips in September 2022.
2 Mayo Clinic, Sacroiliac joint pain in September 2022.
3 Pure Physio, Hip impingement in the dynamic young dancer in September 2022.
4 Harlequin Floors, Common Dance Injuries in September 2022.
Approved by the Director of Dance on Nov. 4, 2022
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.