This subsection of the main area looks specifically at ballet health and provides an overview of ballet injuries that can occur, how to avoid them and what to do or how to treat them if they do occur.
I should point out here that in many cases of physical injury that can occur during a performance or in training, the doctor should be called for and his or her advice sought before attempting to self-diagnose a problem.
Overview of Ballet Injuries
First of all, I want to take an overview look at the most common injuries sustained by ballet dancers. Here are the top ten injuries and some useful and helpful tips for their prevention:
Neck Strain:When excessive head movement is called for, it can easily strain the neck muscles of dancers. This is especially so if dancers do not properly make use of the entire spine when arching the head/neck.
Prevention Tip: Bruce: "Lengthen the neck and try not to collapse it. Imagine your neck like a long, graceful arch. Like a swan's for example."
Rotator Cuff Tendonitis and Impingement:When the arms are used extensively, for example during overhead lifts and falls, tears in upper-arm tendons can occur or even impingement, where painful pressure is felt in the shoulder area when the rotator cuff and scapula rub together, which happens as arms are lifted.
Prevention Tip: Bruce: "Be aware of the actual landmarks of the shoulder girdle. Once you understand the scapula is located behind them, you can have better anatomically aligned mechanics."
Lower-Back Strain and Muscle Spasms:Lifting, arching and incorrect technique can overwork and in some cases strain the lower-back extensor-erector muscles. Many dancers with lordosis (which is a swayed back or pronounced curvature of the lower-back) are more prone to suffering spasms.
Prevention Tip: Deckert: "Get a more three-dimensional sense of your abdominal wall by using the image of a cummerbund. Alternatively, imagine the pelvis as a bowl with water. Not allowing the water to splash will improve core strength."
Snapping Hip Syndrome:This syndrome can be caused by Iliotibial (IT) band tightness or weakness along the outer side of the hip and lordosis. Dancers will experience a snapping rubber-band–like sound in the frontal hip joint, which happens as the IT band glides over the upper-leg bone (greater trochanter) during battement or développé.
Prevention Tip: Be sure to strengthen the lower abdominal muscles and all pelvic stabilizers (ie: abductors, adductors, hip flexors). Avoid turning out at the feet to prevent stress on the knees and hips in particular.
Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome:This syndrome originates in tight hamstrings and calf muscles, as well as weak quadriceps where repetitive force from normal movement puts pressure on the kneecap (patella). This has the effect of causing the knee-protecting cartilage to progressively lose its shock-absorbing ability. Many dancers with wide hips, high-arched or flat fleetand knees that turn in or out can be more likely to experience this type of pain.
Prevention Tip: Liederbach: "The knee is the main victim lying between the ankle and the hip. Building core strength through hip-abductor strength training and IT stretches are key preventatives."
Meniscus Knee Tear:The cushioning knee cartilage can be damaged or torn by twisting knees during movement, forcing feet in turnout or by losing some control when you land a jump.
Prevention Tip: Bruce: "Strengthen the core is a crucial path to knee health. It reduces the burden on the knee, meaning you do not land with so much force."
Posterior Tibial Tendonitis:Dropping the medial arch during warm-ups or basic barre exercises overworks the tibial tendon. This type of tendonitis also coincides with shin splints or can be the result of chronic ankle rolling.
Prevention Tip: Deckert: "Work to lift the arches and avoid forcing turnout from the feet."
Achilles Tendonitis:This is an overuse injury that can be caused by training extensively through a short period of time; dancing on a hard floor; putting pressure on a tightened calf muscle. This type of tendonitis can affect dancers predisposed to unbalanced range of motion or weight pressure.
Prevention Tip: Bruce: "Use Thera-Bands when you're doing tendus, basic flexibility and resistance work."
Lateral Ankle Sprain:This is a ligament tear that occurs when the outer side of the ankle rolls inwards following loss of balance from landing a jump.
Prevention Tip: Bruce: "Keep the ankle flexible and strong by using a Thera-Band."
Posterior Ankle Impingement Syndrome:This comes as a pinching sensation that is felt during repeated barre or floor work, as the heel bone makes contact with the tissues and talus bone at the rear of the ankle compress. When pointing the feet or in relevé, reaching a full range of motion will be difficult. Some dancers born with an additional bone in place can be more prone to suffering with this syndrome.
Prevention Tip: Try varying your training regimen. Focus on different types of dance following excessive pointe or demi pointe work.
Good physical health is essential for dancers. Maintaining a healthy diet is also important as well as physical exercise and training for keeping the body in tip top condition and having plenty of energy when it is needed most.
This information above was compiled from consultations with the following experts:
- Jennifer Deckert, assistant professor at University of Wyoming (MFA in ballet pedagogy. Presented at the International Association for Medicine and Science)
- Jacqui Greene Hass, director of Pilates and Dance Medicine at Wellington Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine Therapy Services
- Michael Kelly Bruce, associate professor at The Ohio State University (certified in Pilates. Specializes in conditioning)
- Marijeanne Liederbach, director of research and education at Harkness Center for Dance Injuries
If you wish to read more about the various aspects of physical health in ballet, please choose from the list of article titles below: