Q: My 13-year-old daughter has always been flexible, but last year she suffered an acute injury to her hip flexor from an overstretch position. Since then I have told her not to participate in over-splits or other extreme positions. Is that the right thing to do?
A: You are right to caution her. There is clear research that shows that over-splits can change the angle of the thigh bone in the joint, potentially tearing cartilage. These extreme stretch positions can put strain on the ligaments, which can decrease their ability to maintain stability at the joint.
Teachers need to remember that the growth plates of their younger students may still be open. It has been reported that soccer players and gymnasts are the most likely to suffer from ischial apophysis—a very bad tear where the hamstring attaches to the sitz bone that fractures the growth plate. I wonder, if dance were considered a sport, would dancers also have been on that list?
We also know if you hold the muscles in an extreme passive stretch for longer than 30 seconds, you are decreasing strength. In other words, don't passively stretch before class—do it after class when you can then rest and recover.
I realize stretching can be extra tricky for teenage dancers as they navigate both hormonal and structural changes in their bodies. This leaves them more vulnerable to injury, and I strongly support your decision to have her pull back on over-splits and other extreme stretch positions.