Gigi Berardi is an assistant editor of the Journal of Dance Medicine & Science. Parts of this article have been adapted from her recent book, Finding Balance: Fitness, Training, and Health for a Lifetime in Dance.

Some injuries happen unexpectedly: An off-balance landing, a poorly timed lift or a slippery floor can cause a strain or sprain in a split second. Most often, however, injuries develop slowly over a period of time and are caused by overuse or continual, low-level stress.

Therefore, it’s essential for teachers to be on the lookout for destructive movement patterns and signs of pain among students. Is a dancer favoring one side? Is she constantly rubbing her calf muscle? Learning what to look for will enable you to intervene before a condition becomes chronic.

Some risk factors to watch out for include excessive pronation (feet rolling in), excessive eversion (feet rolling out, or “sickling”), muscular imbalance, forced turnout and structural anomalies (e.g., differences in leg length). Other factors include inadequate warmup and training overload, as well as poor nutrition, disordered eating and menstrual dysfunction or irregularity. Here, we take a look at seven common dance injuries, as well as risk factors and methods of treatment.

Ailments: Achilles Tendonitis and Shin Splints 

Risk Factors: Poor technique, anatomical limitations (a high instep), environmental factors (hard floors). Dancers who land with their “heels up” (i.e., with the heels of the feet not making contact with the floor) are also at risk. Those with a shallow plié or weak thigh muscles will have problems rolling through the entire foot during fast-tempo ballets.

Treatment: At early onset, rest and ice (and, for tendonitis, compression and elevation) are recommended. An evaluation by health professionals may indicate the need for corrective devices such as orthotics. An orthotic shoe insert limits excessive rolling in and out of the foot and repositions joints to alleviate pressure put on muscles and tendons. Alternatively, dancers may follow a course of extensive manual and physical therapy practices. In the studio, teachers should advise quadriceps conditioning, as strong thigh muscles help to stabilize the knee joint and control the plié.

Ailment: Ankle Sprain 

Risk Factors: Poor technique, fatigue, weak ankle and lower-leg muscles, history of ankle sprains.

Treatment: For immediate treatment, application of ice, compression and elevation is recommended. Ice should be applied about three times per day for 10 to 20 minutes each time. Ice has an analgesic effect, and allows for exercises that move the joint through full range of motion. Strengthening work should include resistance exercises in pointing and flexing the foot, as well as with lateral ankle movements.

Ailment: Stress Fracture

Risk Factors: A pronated foot and genu valgum (knees rotated to the outside). Repetitive loading with demanding movements, predisposition to amenorrhea (absence of menstruation) and restricted caloric intake may also contribute.

Treatment: Rest and ice, until a diagnosis can be made.

Ailment: Patellofemoral Syndrome

Risk Factors: Patellofemoral syndrome is caused by poor patellar (kneecap) tracking or excessive loading of the patella, which generally results from the outside hip and thigh muscles (the vastus lateralis) being stronger than the inside thigh (vastus medialis), pulling the kneecap to the outside. When jumping or practicing lunges, many students contract their quadriceps tightly throughout their plié, producing constantly high patellofemoral compression forces. The situation can be aggravated by a pronated foot, anterior pelvic tilt (swayback) and decreased external hip rotation.

Treatment: Rest and ice can be effective until a diagnosis is made. Rehabilitation of patellofemoral syndrome involves conditioning for strength and flexibility of the quadriceps, hamstrings, gastrocnemius and soleus (calf muscles), as well as stretching of the iliotibial band (outside leg). Giving feedback in technique class also helps—emphasizing that the dancer’s knees should be over her feet in lunges, and that external hip rotation should be used to initiate plié.

Ailment: Low Back Disorders

Risk Factors: Lifting and jumping with poor alignment, muscle imbalance (which may involve a tight psoas, or hip flexor) and training overload. Environmental factors, such as non-resilient floors, tight costumes or lifting a partner mismatched in height or weight, or with improper timing, may also contribute.

Treatment: Rest and ice are recommended for immediate treatment. Following a diagnosis and treatment, core strengthening and stretching exercises, including those for tight hip flexors, are recommended. Conditioning programs that focus on abdominal and back extensor strengthening, hip flexor stretching and exercises to release tension in the low back area can help to relieve pain. Rehabilitation also could include Pilates work. Any number of soft tissue (manual mobilization) treatments will ease spasms and release the tissue. Physical therapy adjuncts may include massage, electrical stimulation and ice.

Ailment: Anterior Shoulder Impingement

Risk Factor: This occurs when the many tendons that envelop the head of the shoulder bone are “pinched against” the roof of the shoulder joint, as with improper overhead lifting.

Treatment: Rest, ice, compression and elevation, as well as gentle shoulder mobilization, manipulation and massage of tight shoulder girdle muscles, stretching and strengthening exercises. DT 

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Jerome Capasso, courtesy of Man in Motion

Finding a male dance instructor who isn't booked solid can be a challenge, which is why a New York City dance educator was inspired to start a network of male dance professionals in 2012. Since then, he's tripled his roster of teachers and is actively hiring.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, courtesy of HSDC

This fall Hubbard Street Dance Chicago initiates an innovative choreographic-study project to pair local Chicago teens with company member Rena Butler, who in 2018 was named the Hubbard Street Choreographic Fellow. The Dance Lab Choreographic Fellowship is the vision of Kathryn Humphreys, director of HSDC's education, youth and community programs. "I am really excited to see young people realize possibilities, and realize what they are capable of," she says. "I think that high school is such an interesting, transformative time. They are right on the edge of figuring themselves out."

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: What policies do you put in place to encourage parents of competition dancers to pay their bills in a timely manner?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of Kim Black

For some children, the first day of dance is a magic time filled with make-believe, music, smiles and movement. For others, all the excitement can be a bit intimidating, resulting in tears and hesitation. This is perfectly natural, and after 32 years of experience, I've got a pretty good system for getting those timid tiny dancers to open up. It usually takes a few classes before some students are completely comfortable. But before you know it, those hesitant students will begin enjoying the magic of creative movement and dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Photo via @igor.pastor on Instagram

Listen up, dance teachers! October 7 is National Frappe Day (the drink), but as dance enthusiasts, we obviously like to celebrate a little differently. We've compiled four fun frappé combinations on Instagram for your perusal!

You're welcome! Now, you can thank us by sharing some of your own frappé favs on social media with the hashtag #nationalfrappeday.

We can't wait to see what you come up with!

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Original photos: Getty Images

We've been dying to hear more about "On Pointe," a docuseries following students at the School of American Ballet, since we first got wind of the project this spring. Now—finally!—we know where this can't-miss show is going to live: It was just announced that Disney+, the new streaming service set to launch November 12, has ordered the series.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Tony Nguyen, courtesy of Jill Randall

Recently I got to reflect on my 22-year-old self and the first modern technique classes I subbed for at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley, California. (Thank you to Dana Lawton for giving me the chance and opportunity to dive in.)

Today I wanted to share 10 ideas to consider as you embark upon subbing and teaching modern technique classes for the first time. These ideas can be helpful with adult classes and youth classes alike.

As I like to say, "Teaching takes teaching." I mean, teaching takes practice, trial and error and more practice. I myself am in my 23rd year of teaching now and am still learning and growing each and every class.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Misti Ridge teaches class at Center Stage Performing Arts Studio. Photo by Arlyn Lawrence , courtesy of Ridge

The dance teachers who work with kids ages 5–7 have earned themselves a special place in dance heaven. They give artists the foundation for their future with impossibly high energy and even higher voices. Enthusiasm is their game, and talent is their aim! Well, that, self-esteem, a love for dance, discipline and so much more!

These days, teachers often go a step beyond giving tiny dancers technical and performative bases and make them strong enough to actually compete at a national level—we're talking double-pirouettes-by-the-time-they're-5-years-old type of competitive.

We caught up with one such teacher, Misti Ridge from Center Stage Performing Arts Studio, The Dance Awards 2019 and 2012 Studio of The Year, to get the inside scoop on how she does it. The main takeaway? Don't underestimate your baby competition dancers—those 5- to 7-year-olds can work magic.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Patrick Randak, Courtesy In The Lights PR

The ability to communicate clearly is something I've been consumed with for as long as I can remember. I was born in the Bronx and always loved city living. But when I was 9, a family crisis forced my mom to send me to Puerto Rico to live with my grandparents. I only knew one Spanish word: "hola." I remember the frustration and loneliness of having so many thoughts and feelings and not being able to express them.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Courtesy Just for Kix

As a teacher or studio owner, customer service is a major part of the job. It's easy to dread the difficult sides of it, like being questioned or criticized by an unhappy parent. "In the early years, parent issues could have been the one thing that got me to give up teaching," says Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a teacher and studio owner with over 43 years of experience. "Hang in there—it does get easier."

We asked Clough her top tips for dealing with difficult parents:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Getty Images

It's the middle of the semester and two dancers are sitting out of class, you're worried about one student's mental health and another has developed an eating disorder. Sound familiar? College can be a tumultuous time. To help address the additional demands of being a dance major, some schools have found strategies for enhancing wellness and integrating health services into their departments.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox