In a previous article, we covered 5 of the more common dance injuries. At the top of the list was Lumbosacral injuries, more commonly known as the lower back area. It is the base of the spine and crucial to the connection between the upper and lower body. But this is not the only area of the back that is known to frequently plague dancers if they are not careful or pay attention to their body’s limits. It is important to be aware of some of the specific types of back injuries to this area and others. They can seem minor but left uncared for, can be some of the most detrimental to a dancer’s career. It is important to know when to seek medical advice.
Common Back Injuries:
Muscle Pull in the Quadratus Lumborum
About the Injury:
Strain or overexertion of the Quadratus Lumborum
Symptoms of Injury:
Tightness and aching in the lower back (though it sometimes may present itself as a sharper pain
Like many muscles pulls it can be caused by overexertion. Other causes can also include: poor posture, unequal leg length, muscle weakness, and trauma
While soreness and muscle pain are common for any athlete. Attempting to fight through the pain can lead to worsening the pull, chronic low back pain, as well as injuries to other parts of the body trying to compensate for the injury, typically the hips.
Rest, heat or ice, yoga and stretching, massage therapy, and, if necessary, medication
Stress Fractures of the Lower Back (also known as Spondylolysis)
About the Injury:
This injury is most common in younger dancers. It forms in the thin area of the vertebral bone, known as the pars interarticularis. It is the part of the vertebra that helps form the joint with the other vertebra. A stress fracture is a unique type of fracture or breaks compared to a traumatic break. As it is but a complete break but happens over time when the bone can regenerate fast enough to keep up with the strain.
Symptoms of Injury:
Unfortunately, injury can exist for some younger dancers for a period of time without any noticeable symptoms. The most frequent symptom is a dull lower back pain that worsens over time. It often feels similar to a muscle strain. If you think your child may have or be at risk for Sondylolysis it is important to consult a doctor. This injury does not mean the end of a dancing career. But special precautions are recommended to ensure it does not interfere with your dancer’s experience.
Rest, acetaminophen, and several months of physical therapy is the best way to treat this type of injury. It is important to improve core and muscle strength around the injured area to reduce strain.
Disc Herniation (or “Slipped Disc”)
About the Injury:
A “disc” is the cushion between the individual vertebrae. This disc can sometimes tear through is protective exterior. These types of back injuries are far more frequent in older dancers than in children.
Symptoms of the Injury:
Arm or leg pain. Herniations of the lower back most commonly result in the buttocks, thigh, and calf. It is a noticeable, intense pain. There may also be numbness, weakness, or tingling. Though, it is possible to have a herniated disk and not be aware of it.
Some people are at a higher risk for this injury simply based on genetics, but the most common causes are excess body weight and physically demanding jobs that require repetition of strenuous motions.
While physical therapy, yoga, and other non-medical activities can be helpful. If the herniation is severe enough, it will likely require over-the-counter medication, and, possibly, surgery.
Lumbar Facet Sprain
About the Injury:
This type of sprain is often caused by hyperextending the spine, causing two types of joints to be compressed.
Symptoms of the Injury:
It typically presents as back pain – the tenderness of the muscles connected to the spine occasionally accompanied by radiation to the groin and the back of the leg, but it does not extend past the knee
This type of sprain is often caused by hyperextending the spine, causing two types of joints to be compressed. Especially when bending forward and backward while rotating the spine.
Fortunately, this injury does not require surgery. Rest, physical therapy, and a slow progression back into dance should resolve the injury.
General Risk Factors
The risk factors for many of these back injuries include: fatigue, inadequate conditioning, poor flexibility, and being underweight.
Back injuries are to be taken seriously as many risk developing into debilitating injuries that will put one’s future in dance at risk. It is important to listen to your body or your dancers. It is also important to take medical advise seriously and to come back stronger than before the injury.
Check out some of these articles focusing on stretches to help avoid these and other injuries:
Not sure if you should go see a doctor about a possible dancer injury? Let’s walk through some steps to make sure you take the best care of a dancer possible.
How Does a Dancer Injury Happen?
Dancing is an athletic activity, and even the best dancers can land off balance or turn an ankle the wrong way.
Contemporary-Dance.org has a list (and some basic treatment options!) of some of the most common dance injuries, in order of seriousness:
2. Muscle or ligament tear (or strain).
7. Overload (chronicle fatigue) syndromes.
8. Vascular syndromes.
Like the article describes, there are a variety of ways a dancer injury can come about. There’s the more obvious fall, or rolled ankle, or shooting pain that a dancer can easily describe. A sudden dancer injury like that might be characterized by:
With a sudden dancer injury, where there’s concern of a possible sprained muscle, torn ligament, or fractured bone, it’s usually best to head to the doctor as soon as possible. While it might not merit a hospital visit (although it might, use your best judgment!!), a dancer injury that ends up being significant but isn’t diagnosed often gets significantly worse with repeated use.
And that’s the second way for injuries to come about: repetitive strain on a muscle or bone, that over time can eventually become a more acute dancer injury.
Steps to Take Right Away
Immediately after a student has reported a possible injury, or you’ve noticed swelling or painful movement, the best treatment is a well-established method in the sports and physical health realm: R.I.C.E.
For the next 24-48 hours, limit (or better yet, completely avoid) any movement or weight-bearing actions on the injured area.
Over that same period of 24-48 hours, ice the affected area for 15-20 minutes every few hours, to help reduce swelling and pain.
Wrap the affected area with a bandage, but not too tight! You want to keep swelling down, but you want to be sure that the area maintains good circulation. If the dancer feels numb, tingling, more pain, more swelling, then the wrap is probably too tight.
Keeping the affected area elevated will continue to reduce swelling, and will also keep the dancer off his/her feet while the injury can be assessed (back to the R, rest, portion).
So, Do We Need to Go to the Doctor?
As a best practice, it is always better to get a professional assessment of a possible dancer injury.
Without figuring out the cause of the injury, or confirming that an injury has happened, you’ll set the dancer up to cause more repetitive damage over time. An X-Ray or other diagnostic test can help the doctor determine the severity of an injury, and from there you’ll be able to set up a recovery plan.
Dance Spirit has an article that goes through some ways to talk to your doctor within the context of dancing. For example, dancers have a distinct advantage in that they can continue to attend class or benefit from exercise while making sure to avoid using an injured area. Check out the third paragraph, where you can learn how to avoid the “Absolutely No Dancing” decree from your doctor.
Either way, notice how you ended up at the doctor’s office! It’s way better to run some tests and find out that your dancer is NOT injured, but MUST avoid certain movements for two weeks, than to let him/her continue dancing and end up in the emergency room with a torn muscle or fractured bone.
The sooner you figure out the injury and the cause for the injury, the sooner the dancer can be on his/her way to a healthy recovery.
Dancers work hard to train their bodies for their craft. It’s a physically demanding sport that requires extensive practice, dedicated training and muscle memory formation. While these athletes take every precaution they can to stay safe, no physical activity comes without the potential for injury. Read more to find out how to come back to the studio safely after a dance injury.
Recognize When You’re Hurt
A problem for athletes of any discipline is the “walk it off mentality” that tells the injured they need to ignore their pain and just keep going. While tenacity is an admirable trait for dancers to have, ignoring the warnings that your body is sending you can lead to bigger problems.
Too many times dancers will try to push through an initial dance injury because they don’t want to miss out on any practice time. But, then they increase damage to where it becomes physically impossible to continue. They end up making injuries worse and spend more time sitting out than if they had just taken the break they needed in the first place.
It’s hard to say no to something you love, but dancers who want to have a long career in the art need to know when they’ve had enough. When an ankle rolls the wrong way and becomes painful to put pressure on or you feel a sharp pull in your back while you’re twisting, you need to take a step back and examine what’s going on with your body. An injured dancer should remove herself from activity as soon as she notices the pain.
While it’s normal to feel sore when you’re pushing yourself through a rigorous workout, there are a few signs that the discomfort you’re feeling is a sign of significant injury. The International Fitness and Physique Association has listed several signs that athletes should look out for when they’re assessing a potential injury:
Sudden pains in muscles or any kind of pain in the joints.
A sore area that is tender to the touch.
Decreased range of motion.
Greater weakness on one side of the body than the other.
Numbness or tingling.
If you start to experience any of these sensations while you’re dancing, you should take a moment to stop and regroup before trying to continue with your practice.
Properly Treating a Dance Injury
While you may be able to treat some minor damages with rest, ice, or over-the-counter medications, some injuries will need professional help in order to heal properly. If the pain is unbearable or doesn’t subside after a day or two then you’ll need to check in with a doctor.
If you feel a pop in your knee and are then unable to bend it, for example, you’ll want to head straight to the emergency room to ensure your didn’t tear a ligament. However, mild swelling and full control of the joint may just need a day of rest and some ibuprofen.
It’s important to respond to an injury in a correct and timely manner to ensure it will heal correctly. Knowing when to apply cold or heat to an injury is vital, and don’t avoid going to the doctor because you’re afraid of being told something you don’t want to hear.
Follow whatever instructions your medical team provides to you and don’t try to take any shortcuts on your road to recovery. If your physician tells you to wait three weeks before dancing again but you feel better after two, you should check in and get an official clearance before heading back to class.
If you have a serious dance injury that will take a long time to heal or you need a referral for a specialist, try to find a doctor who focuses on treating athletes, preferably one who knows about dance. It’s important to work with medical providers who understand your goals and the kind of stress you’ll be putting on your body when you’re fit enough to dance again.
Making Your Return to Dance
You’ll need to be patient with your recovery. Rushing back too soon or jumping right back in to your former activity level could just lead to a reinjury and more total down time. Once you’re cleared to go back to dancing you need to start off small and build your way back up.
Podiatry Today reported that athletes should begin with active rest – that is, resuming some level of moderate, low-impact activity before resuming their normal routine. Just because you have an ankle injury doesn’t mean you can’t still do upper body weight training, for example.
Your return to dance should be a slow build up. Start with simple moves and endurance exercises that restore your muscles before trying complicated steps. If anything feels wrong you should take a break for a few minutes and reassess. There’s nothing wrong with only completing half of your first class back if you think you’ve had enough for one day.
Don’t just examine how your former dance injury feels, either. If your overall activity level decreased while you were resting your injury, there’s a strong chance that other muscles groups lost some of their strength as well.
It’s common for athletes to pull different muscles when they start activity again because they didn’t recognize how much their downtime impacted their body. Pay attention to your whole body and be aware of anything that doesn’t feel right.
Dancing safely is all about listening to your body and training properly. Be sure your following safe workout habits and taking time off when you need to so you can give yourself a long and successful dance career.