Dance may appear graceful and effortless, however achieving this actually requires a high degree of athleticism and long hours of dedicated training. Dancers therefore need to be athletes as well as artists. Dancers are therefore vulnerable to injury, just as athletes in other sports are prone to sports injuries. The types of injury dancers sustain will depend on many factors, especially the style of dance (ballet, jazz, contemporary, tap, acrobatics, ballroom, Irish, hip-hop, and many more); the number of hours spent training or performing; and the specific choreography they are rehearsing. For example if a ballet dancer is doing hours of pointe work each day (ie. on the tips of their toes in pointe shoes), they will be more prone to foot and ankle problems. If a theatrical dancer is performing repeated layout kicks or arabesques (repetitive low back extension), they may be more prone to low back pain or injury. These factors (called “extrinsic factors” as they are ‘outside’ the individual) are not so easy to control, as they depend largely on the needs of the school or company the dancer belongs to, and their examination, rehearsal and production processes.
However there are also a large number of “intrinsic factors” (within the individual), more of which are in the dancer’s control. These include:
- Structural factors, or the dancer’s anatomy or alignment. Eg. Lordosis, kyphosis, scoliosis (spinal curvatures); genu varum/valgum (bow-legs or knock-knees), femoral and acetabular version (anatomy of the hip joints) and many more.
- Joint mobility & soft tissue flexibility. This will affect the dancer’s “facility” with turn-out, splits, arabesque, etc.
- Muscle strength, endurance & neuromuscular control. These affect the dancer’s “biomechanics” (control of alignment), joint stability, posture, “lines” of movement, and their overall performance qualities.
- Cardiovascular fitness (“anaerobic” and “aerobic”). This will affect their stamina, in terms of performance ability as well as coping with long hours of training.
- Psychology, or mind-set. This obviously affects many aspects of a dancer’s life, including their attitude towards performance, dedication to training, and their ability to cope with injuries or other set-backs.
Most of these issues can be helped by programmes targeted at each dancer’s strengths and weaknesses. Weaknesses can be identified through a comprehensive dance physiotherapy assessment. They can then be addressed with specific exercises, ranging from home exercises with no or minimal equipment, through to Pilates studio sessions, fitness training and cross-training. Although we can’t change our anatomy (our body’s structure), most other posture, flexibility and control issues can be corrected (or at least improved) by an individualised physiotherapy “conditioning” programme.
Physio-Dance becomes a regular part of the dancer’s warm-up and conditioning routine. This will go a long way towards coping with the high demands of dance training, competition and performance. It can prevent injuries from occurring in the first place; or, if an injury does occur, can ensure recovery is as quick and effective as possible.