Dancer Health

Snap, Crackle, Pop: An Innocent Noise Could Be a Warning of Future Injury

Photo by Thinkstock

Like any dance teacher, Christopher Busbin witnesses his students' popping joints and often experiences his own. "My shoulders were always cracking, and I thought it was from torn rotator cuffs," he says. Busbin, who teaches at Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Birmingham, Alabama, saw a massage therapist, who discovered that the stress in his joints was caused by overworked trapezius muscles in his back. "Now that I know the real source of the problem, I can help prevent it by addressing it myself," he says.


Joints pop and crack when pockets of air build up inside the body, a result of misalignment, gaseous release or impingement of connective tissue. Anneliese Burns Wilson, director of ABC for Dance, which makes The Body Series books for dancers, says that frequent body cracks are normal. “I believe that when the body cracks, it's making adjustments to bring itself back to correct alignment," she says.

Dancers are more prone to joint popping than less-active people, especially around the feet, ankles, shoulders and elbows, which makes it difficult to decipher whether a noise is dangerous or harmless. Even more questionable is when dancers actually force a joint to pop. The ability to tell the difference between an innocent sound and a harmful one is key.

Wilson does not advise intentional, repetitive joint cracking, especially out of habit. Deborah Vogel, neuromuscular and dance medicine instructor at Oberlin College and Conservatory in Ohio, also warns to never allow a peer to manipulate body cracks. “It's one thing when a dancer innocently twists her own spine with little force, but I would never allow someone else to touch my neck, back and ankles," she says.

Popping sensations that indicate problems are usually accompanied by pain, swelling or a decreased range of motion, stemming from hyperextension or strain of ligaments and tendons. This can result in a “twanging" sensation, not unlike if you plucked a guitar string too hard. Pain like this should never be ignored, because it can lead to sprain or tears in the involved ligaments and tendons. If left untreated, they may require physical therapy. See an orthopedic specialist if pain persists for several weeks.

Preventing dancers from hyperextending into their joints is the best way to prevent popping. Vogel says that flexible dancers often push into their knees when standing, causing the rest of their joints to misalign. Wilson warns that knee joints hold the most potential danger. “A knee making sounds could be a sign of misalignment of the patella; an indication that there is wearing down of the cartilage underneath the kneecap," she says.

Extreme hyperextension often causes imbalances in muscle strength, which can force a joint to track improperly. One way to combat this is for dancers to cross into other styles; for example, a ballet student taking modern dance to work on parallel positions. Be sure that during stretching, students aren't dropping down into joints, but working the muscles actively.

For Busbin, tips like these have saved him from pain. “As dancers, we put our bodies through a lot over the years," he says. “Injuries like these can creep up on the best of us."

Bobbi Jene is another poignant film to add to this year's must-see list of dance documentaries.

After 10 years living in Israel and dancing with Ohad Naharin's Batsheva Dance, American dancer Bobbi Jene Smith decides to leave the company –and the life she's come to know–in search of finding her own path as a dancer and choreographer.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo by Jim Lafferty; modeled by Sydney Magruder, courtesy of Broadway Dance Center

"If you don't have strong abdominal muscles, you sag into your lower back, your pelvis usually tips and you're hanging out and slumped into your hip joints," says Deborah Vogel, movement analyst, neuromuscular expert and co-founder of the Center for Dance Medicine in New York City. "It just has this whole chain reaction."

The effects of poor core strength can be dire for dancers: from weak and tight hip flexors, which negatively impact extensions, to lower-back discomfort and misaligned shoulders and necks. "Having well-toned abdominals for your posture is the primary reason why you should do stabilizing exercises," says Vogel. "It will allow you to bring your pelvis into correct alignment and good posture."

Keep reading... Show less
How-To
In Motion's senior company dancers and Candice after a showcase performance in Bermuda, (2016). Photo courtesy of Culmer-Smith

When I was 23, an e-mail circulated among my former college dance classmates at Towson University, regarding a teaching position as the jazz director at the In Motion School of Dance studio in Bermuda. I applied, and after a few e-mails, I got offered the job.

Four weeks later, I packed up my tiny little car in Denver, where I was a dancer for the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, and drove across the country to my hometown in Maryland, before flying out for my new life in Bermuda.

Looking back now, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I didn't have time to think through how I should prepare and what I needed to do to officially apply for a work permit. I was mostly concerned with how I was going to pack all my clothes and belongings into two suitcases. If I could go back, I wish I would've had a more specific guide to what teaching in another country entailed.

In an effort to share my experience, here's what I wish I would've known before I left and what I learned over my 10 years living and working as a dance teacher abroad.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
At age 12, doctors advised Paige Fraser to stop dancing and have surgery. Instead, she chose physical therapy and team of chiropractors and massage specialists to help work through her condition. She has just begun her 5th season with Visceral Dance, based in Chicago.

Scoliosis is a condition in which the spine, when viewed from the back, has one or more curves. The vertebrae are abnormally rotated, which creates twisting and more prominent visibility of the rib cage on one side, and it is most commonly seen in adolescents ages 10 and older. Most cases cannot be reversed, but they can be controlled, for example dancer Paige Fraser who despite suffering from severe scoliosis, has thrived as a dancer. Dance teachers can play an essential role in spotting the condition at an early stage.

“Teachers can help to notice that scoliosis is there in the first place," says Sophia Fatouros, a New York City–based dance teacher and and former professional ballet dancer who has struggled with scoliosis since she was 12. “Parents do not always see their children in tight clothes, like leotards."

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Sebastian Grubb (right) runs Sebastian's Functional Fitness in San Francisco. Photo courtesy of Grubb

From improved aerobic capacity to better reactivity, cross-training can to do wonders for dancers' health and performance. But with the abundance of exercise programs available, how do you get your dancers on the right routine?

Sebastian Grubb, a San Francisco–based fitness trainer and professional dancer, shares three questions to ask as you consider different cross-training options.

Keep reading... Show less
Videos

When choreographer Cristian Faxola learned he had two days to create, develop and shoot a music video as an audition to choreograph for The Squared Division production house, he and his team embraced the challenge.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

I have heard you say that tight hamstrings prevent full extension of the knees and that you prefer hamstring stretches in a standing position, rather than on the floor. Can you explain why?

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored