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Helping Dancers Navigate Pain with Physical Therapy.

A Dancer’s body requires strength, flexibility and extensive stamina to perform each day. What might look effortless requires a level of movement that comes with a high risk of injuries. Dr. Cody Johnson, DPT, ATC has valuable information to share with dancers and their parents to help them understand the most common dance injury and prevention questions.

What are some common dance injuries we see in our clinic?

  • Foot and ankle injuries: Achilles tendonitis, trigger toe and ankle impingement

  • Stress fractures

  • Hip injuries: hip impingement, labral tears, hip flexor tendonitis, hip bursitis and joint dysfunction

  • Knee injuries

  • Arthritis in the ankle, foot, knee and hip

Do you think the pain I am feeling is an injury?

Pain will show up faster when you have an imbalance in your body. There are silent factors happening now that contribute to the pain. As a dancer you will compensate for these imbalances and not even realize it. This compensation journey often happens without feeling any pain.

If you have pain that usually subsides within 24 to 48 hours it may be just common muscle pain. Sometimes, it takes a few days for muscles to get sore, which is also normal. However, if you experience the following types of pain, you may have suffered an injury:

  • Pain that increases with an activity

  • Pain that wakes you up at night

  • Pain that is present at the start of an activity

  • Pain that you dance with in class or competition

Why do dance injuries happen?

Dancers perform repetitive movements for several hours a day. Studies have shown that dancing four to five hours a day or longer leads to an increased risk of stress fractures and other injuries.

On top of the intensive training, many dancers get little time to recover between the sessions and have no real "offseason." More repetition with these imbalances can lead to bigger injuries and more serious conditions over time.

In the studio you may feel pressure to keep going and think it is normal to push through pain, taking time out to evaluate that pain will avoid future injury!

“Dancers exhibit a high risk of overuse injuries. Performance without movement literacy will lead to increased likelihood of injury.” - Cody Johnson, DPT, ATC

How can dance injuries be prevented?

The majority of overuse injuries and even some traumatic dance injuries can be prevented. Dance screening is an effective way to reduce injury risk by:

  • Identify dysfunctional movement patterns that could lead to injury in the future

  • Catching problematic movement patterns or capacity deficiencies early on and correcting them with a personalized program

  • Get enough rest and avoid overtraining

  • Do exercises to build strength and endurance

  • Understand your warm-up strategy before training or performances

  • When injuries happen, address them immediately and get advice from a qualified physical therapist or health care provider

What are good exercises for dancers?

Core and hip strengthening exercises are great for dancers. Aerobic and cardiovascular activities, such as running, swimming or biking get your heart rate up and help build stamina for long performances.

Many dancers don't do enough cardio during their regular training. Just 30 minutes three to four times a week is usually enough to improve your endurance. As always, do this in moderation and in short intervals to avoid stressing your joints.

Being screened by a physical therapist with experience treating dancers will help you identify individual areas of weakness to address with specific exercises.

Why AAPT for Dance Physical therapy?

With a thorough understanding of the dancer’s biomechanics and physiology we perform a functional movement assessment of the body. Dr. Johnson is also a member of International Association of Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS) and Performing Arts Medicine Association (PAMA). He has completed a series of Dance Medicine Practicums given by Marika Molnar at Westside Dance Physical Therapy in NYC. He is also a member of Danse Medica.


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