The Dancer Athlete and Orthopaedic Injury

Dancers are true athletes in every sense of the word. Their craft demands strength, endurance, flexibility and artistic impression capabilities. Consider the fact that many world-class athletes from a multitude of sports employ dance in their cross-training regimens to maintain peak performance (Greg Louganis- Olympic Gold Medalist Diver, Herschel Walker - Football, Bruce Lee- Martial arts, Emmitt Smith - Football, Arnold Schwarzenegger- Body Builder). Each touts the benefits of improved footwork, coordination, balance and flexibility.

Dancing and Orthopaedic Injuries

However, the physiologic stresses to the bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons during dance, coupled with improper technique and training errors, can and do lead to common types of orthopaedic injuries. Injury statistics in dancers indicate 65-80% in the lower extremity, 10-15% in the spine, and 5-10% in the upper extremity.

Injuries can occur suddenly with "macro trauma" during a fall, twist, sprain or acute fracture. However, many dance injuries occur due to repetitive "micro trauma" and accumulate slowly over time. Examples include tendinitis, bursitis, ligament strain and stress fracture. This type of injury is more subtle and often requires evaluation to screen for improper technique, biomechanics, or training errors.

Injury Prevention for Dancers

Dancers should routinely employ the following injury prevention strategies:

  • Wear appropriate fitting clothing and shoes
  • Hydrate
  • Perform warm-up stretching before and cool down stretching after
  • Continually focus on appropriate form and technique
  • Do not continue to train in pain; see a medical professional

Common Foot & Ankle Injuries in Dancers

Some of the common foot and ankle injuries seen in dancers include:

  • Stress fracture: The sesamoid bone, second metatarsal and navicular bone most common areas for this fracture.
  • Posterior Ankle Impingement Syndrome: Pinching of bone and soft tissue on the posterior or "rear side" of ankle joint common with pointe/demi pointe position.
  • Flexor Hallucis Longus Tendonitis: Inflammation of the tendon which stabilizes and flexes the big toe joint.
  • Plantar Fasciitis: Inflammation of ligament under heel which supports arch.
  • Achilles Tendonitis: Inflammation of Achilles tendon.

M. Shay Womack, M.D.
Foot and Ankle Surgeon