Dance injury rates are significantly statistically higher than that of other sports. A study by Wolverhampton University found that professional dancers are more likely to suffer injuries than rugby players.
Statistics show that 80 per cent of dancers incur at least one injury a year that affects their ability to perform – compared to a 20 per cent injury rate for rugby or football players. Whilst not a contact sport or explicitly high-impact, dance training is intensively challenging and highly demanding for even the most conditioned and able athlete. Here we look at the six main causative factors that result in dance injury.
1. Anatomical Causes
Natural physical limitations and constraints may limit the development of a perfectly correct technique. Correct technique – beyond being prerequisite for professional success – is a fundamental element of avoiding dance injury. This is evident in the fact that the communist anatomical cause of potential problems and injuries is limitation of turn-outs (external rotation) of the hips. As such it is vital that the dance student and teacher recognise any potential physical limitations early on, so that the dancer may learn to work within their true physical range.
2. Incorrect Technique
When dancers allow their technique to slip – usually due to fatigue – they put themselves at a much higher risk of injury. Commonly this becomes an issue towards the end of a long tour or performance run. Slipping technique is why, typically, injury rates among cast dancers increase throughout the duration of a tour. Quickly learning and performing new, unknown choreography can also create injury issues, as regardless of the ability of the dancer, they have had insufficient time to become accustomed to the movements and fine-tune their technique accordingly.
3. Poor Coaching
As with all sports and athletic disciplines, expert teaching and coaching for the development of technical knowledge is vital. It is the responsibility of an excellent and highly knowledgeable dance teacher to be able to recognise, and react accordingly to, any anatomical weaknesses, physical limitations or onset of injury evident in the dance pupil. Furthermore it is imperative that they correctly relay and instill the fundamentals of correct technique and advise upon supporting lifestyle and cross-training that ensure optimum health, well-being and physical performance of the dancer.
4. The Floor
The floor is an extremely important environmental factor to the health and performance of a dancer. Purpose-built dance floors are vital in rehearsal and performance spaces. Floors that are not built for purpose do not provide sufficient supportive impact. Sprung wood floors support dynamic movement; reinforced, concrete or non-sprung wood floors create unsupportive and unsustainable support for the joints, which is highly detrimental to the physical health of the dancer in the long term. Lack of spring in the floor can produce many injuries, notably foot problems, injuries in the lumbar region of the spine, and in the muscles which are associated with take off and landing – mainly the tibia and metatarsals, which may result in stress fractures.
Ambient temperature of rehearsal studio and performance space is of utmost performance in avoiding dance injury. Dancers have to take extra care to not get too cold before or after practice in order to avoid muscular injury. A standard advised temperature for a training and performance space is 68-70 degrees Fahrenheit, and should not be allowed to drop below this range.
6. Excessive Practice
Unavoidably, dancers often adhere to grueling training schedules – a necessary requisite to master the art, and a mainstay of rehearsals for dance productions and tours. Obviously this presents a high risk factor for creating overuse injuries, particularly when a dancer must continue to train at high intensity with an existing injury. Clearly the combination aforementioned factors – excellent physical cardiovascular fitness, diet, training, technique, ability and training environment – greatly reduces the risk of injury under the demanding training schedules of a professional dancer, however dancers at the top of their game still frequently incur significant injury.