How to Prevent Injuries During Dance Training

A female ballet dancer bandaging her feet
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Dancing is an activity loved by many people all over the world. Whether it’s dancing recreationally or as a full-time professional career, dancing can be a serious workout requiring a strong athletic ability.

Due to dancing putting a significant amount of physical strain on the body, it is not uncommon for both professional and non-professional dancers alike to experience an injury from time to time. The key to keeping your body in good dancing shape is to be aware of the potential injuries and how to prevent them.

In this article, we will discuss the importance of injury prevention in dance and some of the most common dance injuries to watch out for. Plus, we have included 5 key tips for preventing dance injuries to keep your body in tip-top shape on the dance floor. 

What is the Importance of Injury Prevention in Dance? 

When you train as a dancer, one of the most crucial factors in improving your skills is the ability to consistently practice your movements. 

Sustaining a dancing injury can not only cause you pain and discomfort but it can also result in serious required downtime while you heal. As a result, an injury from dancing can ultimately force you to stop dancing for a considerable period of time, causing you to lose precious hours of practice every day. 

If a severe enough injury is sustained and not given proper time to heal, this can even result in a dancer having to retire from the sport altogether. 

What Causes Dance Injuries?

Dance injuries can be caused by many factors, including:

Overuse: While it can be tempting to practice all hours of the day until you reach perfection, excessive practicing is one of the most common causes of injury in dance. When you fail to give yourself adequate time to rest, you put unnecessary strain on your muscles, bones, and tendons, leading to injury. 

Improper Form: Proper form and technique are two of the most crucial elements in dance. One poorly placed foot or improperly twisted limb can result in an injury that can take a dancer out of the dance studio for days, weeks, or even months. 

Poor Footwear: Poor footwear, such as worn-down pointe shoes, does not provide the proper support a dancer needs to protect their feet and ankles. 

Genetics: For some dancers, they may be genetically pre-disposed to dance injuries due to specific abnormalities in their anatomy. This is especially true for anatomical abnormalities in the hips and feet. 

What are the Most Common Dance Injuries? 

The first step to preventing injuries while dancing is to know what the common dance injuries are and what signs or symptoms to watch for.

Here are 8 of the most common injuries that affect dancers:

1. Ankle Sprain 

Dancing puts a lot of strain on the ankles. Even professional dancers must maintain a high level of both strength and mobility in their ankles to sustain long-term careers.

As such, it’s no wonder that ankle sprains and other ankle injuries are among the most common injuries for both professional and amateur dancers alike. 

In a 2016 study of the prevalence of musculoskeletal injuries in both professional and non-professional ballet dancers, it was uncovered that ankle sprains accounted for 69.8% of all professional dancer injuries and 42.1% of non-professional dancer injuries. 

Another study of first-year pre-professional dancers found that nearly 20% experienced an ankle injury. Of these dancers with ankle injuries, 80% reported that their ankle injury led to dance time loss — aka, downtime during healing in which they could not dance. 

2. Shin Splints

Shin splints — also called medial tibial stress syndrome — refers to the feeling of acute pain in the shin and the surrounding area of the lower leg. This condition results from overworking the muscles and tendons around the shins, and is commonly experienced by runners and dancers. 

The development of shin splints affects roughly 20% of dancers, according to Physiopedia. Additionally, an estimated 35% of both new runners and dancers are expected to develop shin splints. 

Symptoms of shin splints include:

  • Tenderness and pain along the shinbone
  • Pain when the heel touches the ground
  • Increased pain when standing on toes or rolling ankles

3. Trigger Toe 

Trigger toe (stenosing tenosynovitis) is a foot condition that results in one or multiple toes becoming stuck in a bent position. This condition is very common in dancers and is caused by constant flexing of and pressure on the toes. For pointe dancers, this can be an especially prevalent condition. 

While the exact prevalence of trigger toe in dancers is not currently well-researched, a 2022 research report published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy states that 53% of dance injuries occur in either the foot or ankle. 

Along with a toe being stuck in a bent position, other symptoms of trigger toe include:

  • Mild pain or discomfort 
  • Difficulty flexing the toe
  • Clicking sound or sensation in the toe

4. Achilles Tendonitis 

Achilles tendonitis — sometimes called Achilles tendinopathy — is an injury that occurs after overuse or straining of the Achilles tendon, located at the back of the ankle. 

In a 2020 cross-sectional study on Achilles tendinopathy in recreational ballet dancers, researchers found that 28.3% of these dancers experienced this injury. The study also found that the highest risk factor associated with the condition was footwear, followed by training duration, warm-up and cool-down time, and muscle strength. 

The symptoms of Achilles tendonitis include:

  • Pain and stiffness around the Achilles tendon
  • Swelling in the heel or along the tendon
  • Difficulty standing on the toes

5. Hip Injuries in Dancers

A person’s hips play a key role in their ability to dance and overall dancing skills. Dancers rely on the mobility and strength of their hips to pull off a wide variety of dance moves. 

One 2017 study of 2,001 dancers observed 345 hip or groin injuries, affecting 17.2% of the dancers participating in the research. Of the 462 professional dancers included in the study, 27.7% experienced hip or groin injuries — revealing the prevalence of hip or groin injury to be higher amongst professional dancers.

6. Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome

Patellofemoral pain syndrome is a bit of an umbrella term used to describe injuries and pain around the front of the knee region. In a 2015 study of more than 1,365 amateur dancers and 900 professional dancers, 29% of these dancers experience patellofemoral pain. 

Symptoms of patellofemoral pain syndrome include: 

  • Pain when using or bending the knee
  • Cracking or popping sounds in the knee
  • Pain after keeping knees bent for extended periods

7. Dancer’s Fracture

Dancer’s fracture refers to the long spiral fracture of the distal shaft of the fifth metatarsal in the foot (outside bone of the foot). It is nicknamed as such thanks to its high prevalence in the dance community. Dancer’s fracture occurs most commonly from a dancer rolling their foot while on their toes or when landing from a jump. 

Symptoms of dancer’s fracture include: 

  • Pain and swelling in the foot
  • Difficulty walking
  • Bruising of the foot

8. Lower Back Pain After Dancing

Many exercises rely on the strength of a person’s lower back to perform, with dance being no exception. As such, feelings of lower back pain or soreness after dancing are common. 

According to a report in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy:

Observational studies have documented high prevalence rates of low back pain (LBP) in contemporary and ballet dancers, which has been associated with activity modification, care seeking, and medication use.”

One study found lower back pain to be relatively prevalent in ballet dancers, affecting between 20.3% to 79% of total dancers. 

5 Tips to Help Prevent Dance Injuries 

Now that we know some of the most common dance injuries — as well as their causes and symptoms — let’s explore the different ways you can work to prevent injuries while dancing.

Here are 5 tips for preventing dance injuries:

1. Improve Your Nutrition 

Following a hard workout, your body needs proper nutrition to heal its muscles and rest up. When it comes to post-dance nutrition, there are 3 R’s to remember:

Repair: As you dance, minor damage known as microtears occur in your muscles. When healed properly, these microtears are what help you to build muscle and gain greater strength. To repair these microtears, you need to consume an adequate amount of protein from foods like lean meats, dairy, and grains.  

Refuel: Your body uses glucose to fuel itself throughout the day. As you workout, your glycogen stores are depleted, leading you to need to refuel after finishing up your dance training.

Rehydrate: You lose a lot of fluids from your body as you sweat during a workout or dance routine. To keep your body healthy and functioning properly, you must replace these fluids with water and electrolyte-infused drinks once you have finished. 

2. Focus on Gradual Loading 

Gradual loading — also called progressive overload — is the practice of slowly and gradually increasing the intensity of a workout. 

In dance, gradual loading can come in a few different forms. For instance, if a dancer is practicing light-weight weight training to increase their strength, they can practice gradual loading by making the weight a little heavier for each set. 

Alternatively, in the dance studio, dancers can practice gradual loading by gradually increasing the number of repetitions of a dance movement or exercise they are performing. 

The main benefit of gradual loading is that it helps your body to build strength and stamina, both of which help you to maintain good form and avoid injury. 

3. Practice Crosstraining 

Crosstraining is when a dancer practices more than just dance to improve their physical fitness.

In many cases, dancers will engage in sports such as running to increase endurance or weight training to help build stronger muscles that can take harder impacts. By doing this type of training, the body’s fitness level becomes more well-rounded and reliable. 

4. Get Adequate Rest 

One of the most common mistakes dancers make that leads to injury is not allowing themselves enough rest time. Without adequate rest, the body becomes exhausted and incapable of its full physical potential. In turn, you can push your body too hard, resulting in injury. 

Giving your body adequate rest each week is the key to allowing your muscles to heal and your body to recuperate — and to avoid injuries from overuse. 

5. Always Warm-Up and Cool Down 

Your body does not always wake up ready for action, and it certainly cannot exercise effectively or correctly without a proper warm-up. 

By always including a warm-up before and a cool-down after your dance practice, you properly prepare your body for the exercise, which helps to avoid injury during your training. Plus, most warm-ups and cool-downs include stretching, which ensures you have the flexibility and mobility you need to make the most out of your dance session. 

Final Thoughts: What are Your Treatment Options for a Dance Injury? 

No matter how hard you work to prevent injury during dance, the chances are good that you will eventually sustain an injury. The key to getting back onto the dance floor quickly is to get the best treatment possible, as soon as possible. 

Medical Treatment: In most cases, you should seek the advice of a medical professional on how to treat a dance injury. Get in touch with a healthcare practitioner to learn what your best options for treatment are.