With the popularity of television shows like Strictly Come Dancing and the rise of Zumba classes, more and more people (namely women) are taking to dance.
While dancing is excellent for entertainment and fitness, repetitive motions, the demands on certain areas of the body and lack of professional training can lead to injury.
Conditions such as arthritis, muscle strain, plantar fasciitis, patellofemoral pain syndrome and shin splints are all associated with dancing. And, depending on the age, level of participation and fitness of the dancer, the chance of suffering these injuries can be more or less likely.
This guide is aimed at the amateur dancer, and it explains each of these injuries with tips on diagnosis, prevention and recovery.
1. Muscle Strain
A muscle strain is caused when the muscle tissue is over-stretched and becomes damaged (torn). The severity of the strain can be categorised by three grades.
Grade 1: A mild strain to individual fibres in the muscle
Grade 2: Greater damage to the muscle fibres but not a complete tear
Grade 3: Where the muscle is completely ruptured
Symptoms of muscle strain could include, but are not exclusive to:
- Pain during periods of rest
- Bruising, swelling and redness
- Weak muscles or tendons
- Inability to move the affected muscle
Interesting Fact: There are over 600 muscles in the human body.
What can you do to prevent Muscle Strain?
For dancers stretching is key to preventing muscle strain. Dance uses a whole range of movements at varying speeds so without stretching before and after dancing, a strain can easily happen.
Improper technique can also lead to muscle damage, for example landing incorrectly. If participating in a class or having tuition always follow the instructors advice and perform to your level of confidence and ability.
Adequate resting and diet also helps to prevent strains by giving the body the energy and care it needs to recovery and be healthy. A balanced diet should include vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, protein, dairy and complex carbohydrates.
What should you do if you suffer from Muscle Strain?
The standard treatment for a muscle strain is the RICE protocol, so Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation to the affected area.
As a general rule the duration of RICE for each grade of muscle strain is as follows:
Grade 1: Two to three weeks
Grade 2: Three to six weeks
Grade 3: Approximately three to four months. Grade 3 muscle strains often require surgery to repair the rupture leading to a considerably longer healing time than Grades 1 and 2
Muscle strains all need time to heal through rest, without which the injury can progress to the next grade.
2. Plantar Fasciitis
Plantar fasciitis (also described as heel pain) is a common injury among dancers as it occurs in the foot. It is characterised by inflammation in the sole of the foot in what is known as the plantar fascia. This is a ligament-like sheath that stretches across the sole of the foot. Inflammation of the plantar fascia occurs through overuse.
Symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis are:
- Pain at the inner part of the heel which can often be felt across the length of the sole
- Pain during activity
- Pain after periods of rest, most people report pain first thing in the morning
Interesting Fact: One in 10 of us will experience Plantar Fasciitis in our lifetime.
What can you do to prevent plantar fasciitis?
Improper footwear is a big cause of plantar fasciitis so be sure to wear supportive trainers during classes such as Zumba. For dance which does not require footwear the primary cause of plantar fasciitis by deduction is overuse so be sure to rest and stretch sufficiently before and after exercise.
What should you do if you suffer from plantar fasciitis?
Resting is vital to allow the plantar fascia to heal. During rest an effective treatment is to wear plantar fasciitis heel supports which will take the strain off the affected area.
If there is pain then ice packs are an effective way to provide pain management. Your doctor may also prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs.
Professional dancers are more prone to severe plantar fasciitis due to the extent the foot is stretched. In this case, wearing a night splint while sleeping can prove effective. Night splints are reputed for reducing the symptoms of plantar fasciitis in over 80 % of cases.
3. Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome
Patellofemoral pain syndrome in basic terms is pain in the knee cap and lower part of the thigh and this is a result of too much stress being placed on these areas of the body.
This stress causes the knee cap to become misaligned; it should slide against a specific track on the thigh known as the ‘patellofemoral groove’.
Symptoms of patellofemoral pain syndrome are:
- Pain towards the front of the knee when going up and down the stairs
- Pain towards the front of the knee when running
- Pain in the knee while resting
- The knee locking or giving way
Interesting Fact: patellofemoral pain syndrome is common among ballet dancers.
What can you do to prevent patellofemoral pain syndrome?
There are many different reasons for patellofemoral pain syndrome so individual causes are best assessed by a doctor. A good all round prevention aid however is to wear a knee brace or strap, which can prove less cumbersome for dancers.
What should you do if you suffer from patellofemoral pain syndrome?
As mentioned individual reasons for why a person suffers from patellofemoral pain syndrome varies, so consulting your doctor should you suffer any of the symptoms is advisable.
For the pain a doctor will typically prescribe an analgesic and recommend the administration of cold therapy. Ice packs, for example, can be applied every two hours for around 20 minutes.
Once the pain is under management gentle exercise in the form of stretching the calf muscles, hamstrings, hip flexors, iliotibial band, quadriceps and hip rotators is beneficial.
4. Shin Splints
Shin splints is characterised by pain in the shin but this can be the result of a range of injuries. Medial tibial stress syndrome is often referred to as shin splints where the pain is brought on by irritation of the shin bone (tibia). In dancers this can develop from jumping on hard surfaces, landing incorrectly or having poor flexibility.
Another form of shins splints is the stress fracture or compartment syndrome, when pressure builds up in a part of the body, compressing the surrounding areas, which causes discomfort.
For dancers, medial tibial stress syndrome is the usual cause of shin splints for which the symptoms are:, when pressure builds up in a part of the body, compressing the surrounding areas, which causes discomfort.
- Pain at the inner part of the shin during and after exercise
- A steady build-up of pain in the shin
- Pain in the shin which eases with activity but afterwards turns to discomfort
Interesting Fact: Dancers can get shin splints by either training too much or too little.
What can you do to prevent shin splints?
For beginners to dance the risk of shin splints arises because the muscles and tendons which support the shin are not strong enough or flexible enough to withstand the stress to the area. Adding an extra activity to your exercise program such as running can help to prevent injury by building up resistance. Alternatively, exercise with a resistance band to increase the muscle strength.
For experienced and amateur dancers alike, it is also a good idea to wear shock absorbing footwear and insoles to cushion contact with hard floors. For dancers who over-train rest is simply the best prevention.
What should you do if you suffer from shin splints?
An instant way to ease the symptoms of shin splints is to use ice therapy. A cold compress in the form of an ice pack can be applied for around 20 minutes every few hours. You should also apply the PRICE protocol of Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.
After following this, a combination of rest and exercise (stretching and strengthening) will help most sufferers of shin splints to overcome the condition. Seek a consult with a physiotherapist for them to assess what types and quantities of exercise will best suit your needs.
Arthritis is at its basics an inflammation of the joints but there are in fact over 100 different forms of arthritis. The condition can develop in one or more joints and for dancers it can either be a result of the activity (young girls who perform “en pointe” in ballet without sufficient training are prone to arthritis) or improved by it (people with arthritis are often encouraged to adopt flexibility exercises). The areas of the body arthritis affects most are the knees, hips, back and hands.
Symptoms of Arthritis are:
- Inflammation of joints
- Pain and / or stiffness in the joints
- Swelling of joints
- Degeneration of bones
- Restricted movement in affected area
Interesting Fact: Women are around 25% more likely to develop arthritis than men.
What can you do to prevent arthritis?
Dancing is a great way to prevent arthritis as it helps to strengthen the muscles, bone density and joints. Doing regular exercise will also promote general well-being and help to maintain your regular weight, which is important because obesity can put people in danger of osteoarthritis in the knees.
What should you do if you suffer from arthritis?
Arthritis can be brought on by injury or other issues in the joint. Unfortunately there is no definitive way to eradicate it. The symptoms can be eased or slowed down however.
Regular exercise and physiotherapy will help to minimise damage to the joints and in severe cases surgery is required to replace or correct the effects of the condition.
On an everyday basis a doctor can prescribe painkillers or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to provide relief from pain and discomfort. For stiffness a heat pack can be applied to the problematic area.