A Guide To Diagnosing And Treating Common Dance Injuries

Lisa M. Schoene, DPM, ATC, FACFAS

Dancers place high demands on the foot and ankle. Given these challenges and rigorous expectations for performance, treatment of injuries in this population can be intricate and challenging. Accordingly, this author discusses the differentiation of common dance injuries, relevant psychological issues and pertinent keys to treatment.

Practitioners who treat dancers need to have a knowledge and understanding of the dynamics of dance. Dancers are a different breed of athlete because of the artistry needed in addition to the pure physicality, psychological makeup and high expectations from everyone. Nutrition issues and a high incidence of injury raise the stakes.

   Dancers train daily for many years, investing time, focus and energy. They do this with the understanding that employment in the business is questionable and that even successful employment guarantees nothing in the future and the possibility of living at the poverty level.

   The doctor and therapist need to understand the language of dance. The official dictionary for proper ballet terms is in French. Schools around the world consistently use these terms. Most dancers start with ballet at an early age and generally continue with it as it is the foundation of most other dance styles.

   The vocabulary is different for other types of dance so the dancer and doctor need to be well versed. With this understanding, the doctor can properly evaluate the positions and movements that dancers need to execute the skills. It is not uncommon for children and teenagers to be involved with four to five styles of dance at the same studio and perform all styles within one dance show. The various styles use different neurological and motor patterning, which dancers learn with consistent repetition and regularity, effectively increasing strength in a cross-training type of fashion.

   As dancers age, many will choose a style (sometimes subconsciously) that suits their body type and aptitude. The classic ballet student typically has a slender body, which most traditional dance companies still desire. This in itself can be very defeating to the young dancer who has the wrong body type but desires the classic ballet program. The broader, more muscular female may gravitate toward jazz and modern styles, which utilize and accept a more athletic body type.

What You Should Know About Dance Shoe Gear

Shoes are different for each dance style. There are ballet slippers, pointe shoes, jazz shoes, tap shoes and ballroom shoes. Ensuring a good fit is critical with all of these shoes. Although simple early youth fitting is straightforward, when the dancer advances into the pointe shoe, it is very important for a experienced fitter to do the job. The foot can be a “square foot” with all toes even, a “Greek foot” with the second toe being the longest or an “Egyptian foot” with the first toe being the longest. The different shaped feet need the proper fit inside the toe box.

   Poorly fitting shoes will affect dance technique and can cause issues with blisters, skin lesions and the possible development of hammertoes or bunions. As the pointe dancer improves, the shoe make, fit and structure change. Since pointe shoes are made of paper, glue and satin fabrics, they are subject to sweat and material breakdown. The lifespan for the pointe shoe is 10 to 20 hours of dancing.

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