Chronic knee pain is among the most frustrating injuries a dancer can face, because it affects one of the most vital components of technique—the plié. One of the most common knee injuries, jumper’s knee, causes students to experience discomfort across the top of the shin, directly below the patella, with extra pain during grande plié and jumps. Learning how to catch and treat this syndrome will ultimately improve your students’ dance technique and lengthen their dancing careers.

Diagnosing Jumper’s Knee

Jumper’s knee affects the patellar tendon, the continuation of the quadriceps muscles that attaches to the tibial tuberosity just below the knee. An overuse syndrome, jumper’s knee occurs when the tendon is not able to withstand the strains that are placed on it during the course of a dancer’s training. The pain is felt most acutely in jumping because this is the activity that puts the most pressure on the tendon.

Many people believe jumper’s knee is a tendonitis, implying inflammation, but instead, the condition is known as a tendonopathy, which means that the tendon is no longer in its state of optimal tissue health and that there may also be actual degeneration of the tendon tissue. This information is especially alarming given that the condition is frequently diagnosed in adolescent dancers.

Finding Causes and Treatments

In order to decide upon an appropriate course of treatment for students diagnosed with jumper’s knee, you must look at individual dancers to discern the specific conditions that created the overuse strain in the patellar tendon. The three most common culprits are a growth spurt, lack of flexibility and muscular imbalances.

In a growth spurt, bones can elongate at a rate that exceeds the ability of the surrounding muscles to stretch, restricting motion at the joints they cross. To address this, dancers should implement a gradual stretching program for their quadriceps. Start with a very moderate stretch held for a short time, and work in very small increments to increase both factors. Attempting to gain too much flexibility too quickly will only result in more strain in the tendon.

Lack of flexibility can result from a growth spurt, as described above, but could also mean that your students are training toward a particular goal before their muscles are ready. For example, a dancer might focus on increasing the height of the gesture leg in attitude derrière, a goal that requires flexibility in the rectus femoris, one of the four muscles that make up the quadriceps. If the dancer persists in pushing the leg higher, even though the muscle lacks the needed flexibility, the strain created in the patellar tendon can actually compromise the structure of the tendon tissue. In this case, both a graded stretching program and a modest decrease in training would be helpful to lessen the stress on the tendon, while simultaneously addressing the muscle flexibility that is necessary to meet that goal.

A third possibility to consider when treating jumper’s knee is muscular imbalance. Generally, the contraction of the quadriceps pulls the patella straight upward, but a muscle imbalance can distort this patellar tracking. Two of the quadriceps muscles, the vastus lateralis (on the outside of the thigh) and the vastus medialis (on the inside of the thigh), approach the patella from opposing oblique angles. If one muscle pulls more strongly on the patella than the other, the patella will not track directly upward, but will instead droop in the direction of the weaker muscle.

For example, if the vastus medialis is working less, the top of the patella will droop toward the inner side of the thigh. You could use the “air chair” exercise in this instance to help strengthen the medial quadriceps. Students need to have a sense of what it feels like to engage these muscles equally, so that they can work with this muscle balance during dance class. In this way, you will begin to correct patellar tracking and decrease strain through the patellar tendon.

Jumper’s Knee and the Dance Teacher

Focusing on alignment of the hip, knee and foot is one crucial way to teach young dancers how to avoid putting excess strain on the patellar tendon. In every plié, the knee should track directly over the center of the foot. When dancers cheat their turnout by placing their feet in a more rotated position than their hip joints can match, their knees bear much of the strain. Not only are they rolling over on their arches (pronating), but their knees are tracking over or even beyond the big toe, creating tremendous torque at the knee. This can also contribute to the muscle imbalance seen with patellar tracking issues. Spending class time focusing on turning out from the hip joint gives young dance students a technical skill that has the added benefit of enhancing the health of their knees.

Teachers should also examine why dance students might be trying to cheat their turnout. They may lack strength in the six deep outward rotators, the muscles beneath the gluteus maximus that contract to turn out the hip joint, or they might have a fundamental misconception of how to produce rotation in their bodies. One common misconception is that turnout means making a particular angle between the feet. Dancers will often place their feet in the desired position without engaging the muscles of the hip joint that rotate the femur, the real source of turnout. It may be beneficial for you to spend time exploring turnout in non-weight-bearing positions, so that your students can translate this correct placement to their dancing.

As a teacher, you must be aware of how your students are treating their knees, because chronic knee pain shouldn’t be ignored. Always consult a physician or physical therapist if the student’s condition doesn’t improve with time and rest. Deal with a diagnosis of jumper’s knee immediately—often, the excessive force being transmitted through the patellar tendon can be lessened by simply changing the dancer’s habits in the classroom. Remember, correct technique is one of the best ways to ensure healthy knees and a long dance career. DT

Rebecca Dietzel is a dance teacher and choreographer, maintains a private practice teaching anatomy, physical re-education and nutrition, and teaches anatomy and kinesiology for the Ailey/Fordham BFA program in New York City.

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Hightower

The beloved "So You Think You Can Dance" alum and former Emmy-nominated "Dancing with the Stars" pro Chelsie Hightower discovered her passion for ballroom at a young age. She showed a natural ability for the Latin style, but she mastered the necessary versatility by studying jazz, ballet and other forms of dance. "Every style of dance builds on each other," she says, "and the more music you're exposed to, the more your rhythm and coordination is built."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Burklyn Ballet, Courtesy Harlequin

Whether you're putting on a pair of pointe shoes, buckling your ballroom stilettos or lacing up your favorite high tops, the floor you're on can make or break your dancing. But with issues like sticking or slipping and a variety of frictions suitable to different dance steps and styles, it can be confusing to know which floor will work best for you.

No matter what your needs are, Harlequin Floors has your back, or rather, your feet. With 11 different marley vinyl floors available in a range of colors, Harlequin has options for every setting and dance style. We rounded up six of their most popular and versatile floors:

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Insure Fitness
AdobeStock, Courtesy Insure Fitness Group

As a teacher at a studio, you've more than likely developed long-lasting relationships with some of your students and parents. The idea that you could be sued by one of them might seem impossible to imagine, but Insure Fitness Group's Gianna Michalsen warns against relaxing into that mindset. "People say, 'Why do I need insurance? I've been working with these people for 10 years—we're friends,'" she says. "But no one ever takes into account how bad an injury can be. Despite how good your relationship is, people will sue you because of the toll an injury takes on their life."

You'll benefit most from an insurance policy that caters to the specifics of teaching dance at one or several studios. Here's what to look for:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

If you're not prepared, studio picture day can be a real headache. But, if done right, it can provide you with gorgeous photos that will make your students and parents happy, while simultaneously providing you with marketing content you will be able to use for years to come.

Here are five tips that will help you pull off the day without a hitch.

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

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Via YouTube

In its 14 years of existence, YouTube has been home to a world of competition dance videos that we have all consumed with heedless pleasure. Every battement, pirouette and trendy move has been archived somewhere, and we are all very thankful.

We decided it was time DT did a deep dive through those years of footage to show you the evolution of competition dance since the early days of YouTube.

From 2005 to 2019, styles have shifted a whole lot. Check them out, and let us know over on our Facebook page what you think the biggest differences are!


Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by World Class Vacations
David Galindo Photography

New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of Koelliker

Sick of doing the same old stuff in technique class? Needing some across-the-floor combo inspiration? We caught up with three teachers from different areas of the country to bring you some of their favorite material for their day-to-day classes.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health

Q: I have a very flexible spine and torso. My teachers tell me to use this flexibility during cambrés and port de bras, but when I do, I feel pain—mostly in my lower back. What should I change so I don't end up with back problems?

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

If you're a studio owner, the thought of raising your rates most likely makes you cringe. Despite ever-increasing overhead expenses you can't avoid—rent, salaries, insurance—you're probably wary of alienating your customers, losing students or inviting confrontation if you increase the price of your tuition or registration and recital fees. DT spoke with three veteran studio owners who suggest it's time to get past that. Here's how to give your business the revenue boost it needs and the value justification it (and you) deserve.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Margie Gillis (left); photo by Kyle Froman

Margie Gillis dances the human experience. Undulating naked in a field of billowing grass in Lessons from Nature 4, or whirling in a sweep of lilac fabric in her signature work Slipstream, her movement is free of flashy technique and tricks, but driven and defined by emotion. "There's a central philosophy in my work about what the experience of being human is," says Gillis, whose movement style is an alchemy of Isadora Duncan's uninhibited self-expression and Paul Taylor's musicality, blended with elements of dance theater into something utterly unique and immediately accessible. "I want an authenticity," she says. "I want to touch my audiences profoundly and deeply."

Keep reading... Show less


Get DanceTeacher in your inbox