3 Most Common Dance Related Injuries - and how to avoid them

I see a fair share of hurt dancers and hear a good number of complaints. Ballet tends to be misunderstood and taught backward (and it has been from the beginning). Unfortunately, almost every injury I see is a result of one of two things: Bad technique, or a dancer who isn't strong enough being taught a step they aren't ready for.


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1. Knee pain.  In my experience, I find knee pain is usually a result of bad alignment, or forced turnout. Many students (and teachers) are under the impression that the turnout, or rotation, comes from and is held by the Gluteus Maximus, which is not true. Because they are told to squeeze the glutes to find their turnout, they end up squeezing, but then forcing the turnout, and not being able to control it.

Not sure if your student is forcing or not? there's an easy test. Lay on the ground, legs at 90 degrees, with flexed feet, turned out in first position. Demi plie and rotate the hips, then press the legs straight, still with flexed feet. Then, maintaining the rotation, articulate the feet to pointe, and then flex again. This exercise is my "tell" to see if a student is forcing, compensating, or understands their alignment; it's also my nearly fail-proof pointe shoe readiness test. If you can't do four in a row, you can't do pointe. You also probably can't do a pirouette from fifth, or a grand battement in the center without losing your core and your rotation.

So when a dancer is forcing their turn-out, of course they're going to have knee pain. They may also end up with hip or foot pain, but knees tend to be the first to go, since we put so much pressure on them.

2. Tendonitis. I see Achilles Tendonitis in kids as young as 8 or 9 who physically cannot put their heels on the ground during a jump combination. When I run into this, I usually stop and break down plie again, because if your calves aren't stretched out by petit allegro, you're definitely doing your plie wrong.

I start by having my students sit on the ground and flex the feet, and pressing the heels up off the ground. If they pull the toes back rather than push the heels forward, I use the phrase "pointe your heels."

When they can do this, I ask them to repeat the same exercise as above; except when they are flexing the feet and about to do the plie, place your hands on their feet, and ask them to plie and push your hands towards the ceiling at the same time. This is very hard to explain and a student will really struggle with it at first, but it will teach them to resist the movement, keep the legs long, and focus on the lengthening of the legs rather than the flexing of the thighs.

3. Bad Stretching. How many times have you told your student to hold a stretch? How many times have I walked into a class and my student is bouncing her splits in the corner? And don't even get me started on over-splits on chairs. It makes my blood boil.

Muscles are easily torn and strained by what physical therapists call "static stretches." That means you get yourself into a position and hold it. A much better way to stretch is called "dynamic stretching," which involves moving from one position to another, and not stopping the movement itself.

Many dancers in my classes today have extremely tight it-bands, erector spinaes, and illiopsoas, due to the tremendous amount of sitting that happens in the modern day school system. And since many dance teachers are stuck in the habit of teaching what they were taught, very little progress is being made to incorporate the new-found knowledge of our bodies into modern-day dance training.

Beyond the Barre, as well as other professionals around the country, are trying our best to change that. If you'd like to learn more about safe stretching techniques, check out the Healthy Dancer conference.

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