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Dancing and Injury


Have you ever watched two people perform a ballet piece? Or seen a breakdance crew jump and flip and twist through the air and thought, they make it look so easy? Dancing is extremely hard on the body although we don’t often think about it as it’s a dancers job to make it look easy. Both an art and a sport, the physical requirements of dance and the sheer number of hours of spent training do put dancers at risk of multiple injuries. Here are a few of the most common:

Ankle sprains

The quick dynamic foot movements in dance require a lot of stability from the foot and ankle complex. The ability of the ankle to respond quickly to sudden movements by maintaining alignment is integral to preventing sprains. Ankle sprains can be avoided by working on foot and ankle strength e.g. tendus, releves, or jumping exercises focusing on landing with the feet in a good position; and working on hip and gluteal muscle strength.

Achilles tendinitis

This injury is common in dance forms with a lot of jumping and releve work e.g. ballet. The achilles tendon becomes thick and tender to touch, eventually limiting participation in activity. Stiff ankles and tight calves are some of the factors that can contribute towards this injury. Improve ankle stiffness with plie exercises and release tight calves through stretching and foam rolling.

Ankle impingement

This can occur at the anterior (front) and posterior (back) aspects of the ankle. Pain occurs when the soft tissue or bone gets pinched between the two surfaces of the ankle joint. Anterior impingement is often aggravated by plies or ankle bends, and posterior impingement is exacerbated by a lot pointe/demipointe work. Avoid too much of the aggravating activity by varying the choreography or moves.

Patellofemoral pain syndrome

This refers to pain around the front of the knee especially with activities requiring deep knee bends. Contributing factors include knees which turn inwards (squinting kneecaps), weak hip and gluteal muscles, flat feet and stiff ankles. Turning out from the feet instead of the hips can cause the arches and consequently the knees to fall in which will negatively affect knee alignment. Focus on mobilising the ankles, releasing tight calf and quadriceps muscles, strengthening the hip and gluteal muscles, and avoiding excessive turn-out from the feet.

Hip labral tears

The hips are especially vulnerable in a dancer due to the large ranges of movement needed in the hips, often in loaded positions. This can cause tears in the rim of cartilage around the hip leading to pain with plies, jumps or leg extensions. One may also notice clicking/clunking sounds coming from the hip. Focus should be on strengthening the gluteal muscles; avoiding positions where the knees collapse inwards; releasing tight hip flexors and glutes; and ensuring correct technique.

Rotator cuff strains and shoulder impingement

The arms are used in dance to create lines and movement, as well as to support the body. Repetitive shoulder movements, especially with poor alignment, can cause rotator cuff muscle strains as well as contribute to compression of structures around the shoulder joint with resultant pain. Dancers should focus on ensuring the shoulder blades are flat against the back; ‘lengthening’ the neck to avoid shoulder hunching, and may also benefit from including some specific rotator cuff strength work.

Dancers are notorious for pushing through injuries because, “The show must go on”. However, if you notice a niggle or something not quite right, it may be worth getting it seen to sooner rather than later before it starts to limit what the body is able to do.

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