Common Dance Injuries and How They Can Be Treated

It is no secret that dance requires posture, balance and countless hours of practice to perfect. It is also no secret that this can place a significant toll on your body, especially your feet and ankles. While bandages and tape may conceal some of the more common injuries, it should be noted that some injuries require specialized treatment so that you recover and perform at your best.

An interesting fact is that dance as a sport is more popular for young children than Little League Baseball or even Pop Warner Football. There are more than 30,000 dance schools in the USA alone, with children starting to dance as young as 4 years of age.

At Olympia Orthopaedic Associates, our Board Certified, Fellowship-Trained in Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Specialist, Dr. Richard Lamour, has a wealth of experience treating dancers of all types from ballet to tap. They create individualized treatment plans based on your injury and your level of competition.

Below are a few of the most commonly seen injuries among dancers as well as some of the treatment options at Olympia Orthopaedic Associates.

Lateral Ankle Sprains

This is one of the most common injuries among athletes and dancers alike and occurs when the ligaments that maintain the stability of the ankle or overstretched and cause tears in the ligaments. While the severity of lateral ankle sprains can vary, the most common signs of an ankle sprain include pain, swelling, bruising, tenderness, and ankle instability.

Ankle sprains are classified into grades based on their severity:

Grade 1 (Mild): The ligaments have been stretched only slightly and small tears in the ligament may have occurred

Grade 2 (Moderate): The ligaments have been partially torn

Grade 3 (Severe): The ligaments have been completely torn and the ankle is unstable

Typical treatments for ankle sprains are nonsurgical and include rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Immobilization in a brace, walking boot, or even a cast is routinely administered to eliminate the forces from daily movement of the ankle and allows the injured ligaments to heal in their normal position. By far the most common cause of residual pain and swelling following ankle sprains is due to inadequate rehabilitation and residual peroneal tendon weakness. Surgery to repair ligaments is considered in grade 3 sprains or patients with recurrent ankle instability.

Stress Fractures

Although stress fractures can occur in almost all the bones in the body, the one most common among dancers is stress fractures of the metatarsal. In fact, a recent study showed that this type of fracture accounted for 63% of all fractures among female dancers.
Metatarsal fractures are especially common among dancers whose routines required pointe work and is most likely due to low bone density and repetitive stress on the bone.

Another common stress fracture among dancers is what is known as a fibular stress fracture, which is a fracture of the outer part of the bone in the lower leg (fibula). These fractures occur gradually over time and have been often attributed to fatigue and improper form when initiating a pirouette.

The most common symptom of this injury is a pain in the lower leg that increases after activity. It is important to have this injury treated as soon as symptoms present so that the fracture does not worsen resulting in a prolonged recovery and even requiring surgery if it becomes chronic.

When addressed early, stress fractures can be treated conservatively with a walking boot or cast with excellent results. Investigating the root cause of the stress fracture, i.e. overuse, footwear, poor form, etc, is typically part of the evaluation.

Posterior Ankle Impingement Syndrome

This condition occurs in the back (posterior) part of the ankle from the repetitive demands of dancing with the ankle in a hyper plantarflexed position. Dancers can have pain in the posterior ankle when performing in the relevé position, whether demi-pointe or en pointe. The pain is caused by impingement or “pinching” of normal accessory bones or soft tissue
This injury requires prompt and specialized treatment to ensure a full recovery. If this injury is left untreated, this can result in progression of the syndrome ultimately requiring surgery if conservative treatments have failed.

When treated early, posterior ankle impingement syndrome responds well to nonsurgical treatment with rest, boot immobilization, and a short course of anti-inflammatory medications. However, when the symptoms are long-standing or there is the presence of an accessory bone in the posterior ankle then surgery is indicated. This procedure is done arthroscopically through 2 small portal incisions to remove the inflamed accessory bone and tissue. The minimally invasive nature of this procedure allows for quicker recovery and better outcome.

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