Special Guest Expert Post written by: Katy Mercurio PT, DPT from Performance Rehab
How Do Dancers Stay Ahead of Injury?
Ballet dancers sustain injuries just like any other athlete. When part of a ballet company, a dancer will participate in hundreds of hours of classes, rehearsals, and performances, all while pushing themselves to improve their technique, the magnitude of their jump, the execution of their turn, the height of their relevé, etc. Dancers are always physically exerting themselves, whether at work, or on their own with cross training. With that constant push for self-improvement coupled with their heavy work-load, it is natural to wonder— how do professional dancers stay ahead of injury?
Overuse Injuries for Dancers
Of all types of injuries, professional ballet dancers primarily suffer from “overuse injuries,” where issues develop over time due to repetitive actions causing microtrauma to tissues.1 This particularly applies to ballet dancers, as they live in a world of turn-out, which requires changing their normal, anatomical patterns to movements that are less-efficient for the body. A dancer’s thigh serves as an apt example. Instead of training their quadriceps to assist with hip flexion and knee extension, they instead utilize their inner thigh, or adductor muscle group. Doing this repetitively overtime creates inefficiencies in their biomechanics, leading to excessive stress to their joints and tissues. Common “overuse injuries” unique to ballet dancers include iliopsoas tightness, flexor hallucis longus tendonitis, and mechanical overuse of the Lisfranc joint.2
Injury Prevention for Dancers
The Kansas City Ballet takes many measures to help the dancers stay ahead of injury. At the start of each season, all company members participate in Dance/USA’s Post Hire Health Screen for Professional Dancers, where a medical professional establishes a comprehensive health history and physical assessment for each dancer. The Ballet also provides access to in-house Pilates instruction, complimentary gym memberships, and daily access to Performance Rehab KC’s team of physical therapists who specialize in dance medicine. When pain or discomfort starts to develop, dancers are encouraged to promptly check in with their physical therapy team, who will immediately triage, evaluate, and treat the dancers, which ultimately halts injury progression and reduces the duration of existing injuries.
The inclusion of daily, on-site physical therapy to a ballet company’s comprehensive medical management has proven to lower incidences of dance injuries, days missed from dance, and injury costs for dance companies.3 Providing the dancers access to the dance medicine physical therapists of Performance Rehab KC is yet another way the Kansas City Ballet is showing the community what it means to be a world-class ballet company.
- Allen N., Nevill A., Brooks J., Koutedakis Y., Wyon M. “Ballet injuries: Injury Incidence and Severity Over 1 Year.” J. Orthop. Sports Phys. Ther. 2012;(42):781–790.
- Sobrino FJ, de la Cuadra C, Guillén P. “Overuse Injuries in Professional Ballet Injury-Based Differences Among Ballet Disciplines.” Orthop J Sports Med. 2015;3(6):232–5.
- Kinney, Susan, et al. “The Effect of Physical Therapist Involvement in the Diagnosis and Treatment of Youth and Adolescent Dancers’ Injuries.” J Dance Med Sci. 2018;22(2):81-83.
Photo Credit: Dancers Danielle Bausinger and Christopher Costantini with company dancers in Carmina Burana rehearsals. Choreographer Adam Hougland. Photo by Elizabeth Stehling.