Dancer Health

Shinsplints—or Stress Fracture? Spot the Differences Between These Easily Confused Injuries

Thinkstock

It's news that Dr. David Weiss doesn't like to give. Sometimes dancers see him thinking they have shinsplints, when they actually have a stress fracture, a more serious injury that requires a longer recovery. “When dancers come in with stress fractures, I see a lot of denial," says the NYU Langone Medical Center orthopedist. “They say, 'This is just shinsplints, isn't it?'"


Because the symptoms of shinsplints and stress fractures are very similar, it can be easy for dancers to misjudge a lower leg injury. In fact, the injuries are so closely related that shinsplints occasionally lead to stress fractures. Recognizing which a student has is essential for proper treatment and recovery: One might call for just sitting out of grand allegro, while the other could require several months off.

Identifying the Injury

Shinsplints, or tibial stress syndrome, is an overuse injury that occurs when the bone's lining and muscles become irritated, making them unable to absorb shock. If shinsplints are left untreated, the irritation may cause a stress fracture. (Though stress fractures do not always begin as shinsplints.)

The placement and size of the area where a dancer is feeling pain is key to determining which injury a dancer has. Dr. Weiss says shinsplints' burning ache is felt along the inner side of the tibia, where the calf muscle begins to protrude, and extends several inches down the bone. Though pain felt with a stress fracture is similar, it is usually concentrated in one small area, about a half-inch long. “If a dancer has pain on the front of the shin, especially if the pain is only in one spot, that's much more suggestive of a stress fracture," he says. In both cases, more intense pain is felt when taking off for jumps or landing.

Causes

The most vulnerable time for both injuries is during a sudden increase in activity, like a summer intensive or when a student returns to class after vacation. Hard or unsprung dance floors make landing jumps difficult on joints and muscles and can put dancers with structural problems, like short Achilles tendons or joint hypermobility, at risk. (See below, “Injury Prevention," for strengthening exercises.) But Alison Deleget, athletic trainer at Harkness Center for Dance Injuries, says the most common cause is from dancers' training habits, usually related to landing jumps incorrectly. Common culprits include not getting the heels down in plié or pronating the ankles and forcing turnout, which cause the calf muscles to carry the stress of preventing the feet from rolling in.

Stress fractures do not occur often—of the approximately 85 dancers at Juilliard, Dr. Weiss typically sees one a year—but when they do, they need to be treated early to prevent a larger, chronic crack. He says nutrition plays a role in this injury specifically. For example, dancers who spend little time in the sun may not have enough vitamin D in their bodies to help absorb calcium, which they may also not be getting enough of. Paying attention to these intakes and using multivitamins can help avoid chronic injury.

Solutions

Dancers who feel shinsplints pain should abstain from jumping for a few days. By dancing with shinsplints, the body may alter its mechanics of the takeoff and landing, which puts stress on other areas. Professional treatment for shinsplints isn't essential, though Deleget recommends seeing someone if the pain lasts more than two weeks, or if it prevents dancing entirely.

If a student thinks they may have shinsplints, there are a few ways to find relief during recovery, including icing, using Kinesio tape or compression socks to encourage the muscles to relax, and wearing athletic shoes with good arch support to keep the lower legs properly aligned. When easing back into class, dancers should pay close attention to stretching out the hips and calves, which take the most stress during landings, causing the joints to grip.

Dancers who have pinpointed pain indicative of a stress fracture should see a doctor immediately for a leg X-ray. Rest is the only solution for this injury, with recovery time taking six weeks to several months, depending on the severity of the fracture and how long the dancer has been jumping on it. Extreme cases may require wearing a walking cast or boot to immobilize the leg.

Dance Teachers Trending
Barbara Bashaw in Thompson Hall of Columbia Teachers College. Photo by Kyle Froman

Barbara Bashaw has always been a pioneer. Since kicking off her career in education by building a dance program from the ground up at an elementary school in Brooklyn, she's gone on to become an inspiring force in teacher training. Now, as director of the new doctoral program in dance education at Columbia University's renowned Teachers College and as executive director of the even newer Arnhold Institute for Dance Education Research, Policy & Leadership, she's in a position to effect change nationwide.

"The study of dance education is a young field," Bashaw says. "Music and visual arts are far ahead of us, in terms of the research that has been done, as well as the foothold they have in education. Anywhere education is being discussed, we want to put dance on the table—and that means developing researchers and championing research that will push public policy." In a climate where arts education feels both more endangered and more necessary than ever, Bashaw is ready to blaze a trail.

Keep reading...
Instagram
Karen Hildebrand (center) with 2019 DT Awardee Marisa Hamamoto and members of Infinite Flow. Photo by Joe Toreno

Every year in our summer issue, we honor four dance educators for their outstanding contributions to the field. Recipients have included studio owners, professors, program directors, K–12 teachers and more, whose specialties run the gamut of dance genres.

We need your help to identify this year's best in the profession. Do you have a colleague or mentor who deserves to be recognized as a leader and role model?

Send your nomination by March 1, 2020. You can e-mail us at danceteachereditors@dancemedia.com with the following details:

Keep reading...
Sponsored by Akada Software
Photo by Jenny Studios, courtesy of Utah Dance Artists

Running a dance school used to involve a seemingly endless stream of paperwork. But thanks to the advent of software tailored specifically for dance studios' needs, those hours formerly spent pushing papers can now be put to better use.

"Nobody opens a dance studio because they want to do administrative work," says Brett Stuckey, who leads Akada Software's support team. "It's our job to get you out of the office and back into your classroom."

We talked to Stuckey about how a studio software program can streamline operations, so you can put your energy toward your students.

Keep reading...
Dancer Health
Getty Images

It's time to talk seriously about safety in dance education. As the physical and psychological demands put on student dancers escalates—thanks to competitions, social media and ever-evolving choreography—there is a pressing need to consider how we can successfully safeguard young dancers.

Keep reading...
Dance News
Photo by Melissa Sherwood, courtesy of MGDC

Martha Graham Dance Company created The EVE Project to mark the upcoming 100th anniversary of U.S. women's right to vote. The female-focused initiative includes new works, as well as the company's classic repertoire highlighting Martha Graham's heroines and antiheroines. In April, the company is showing the newly reconstructed Circe, Graham's 1963 interpretation of the Greek myth, at New York City Center. Dancing the role of Circe is company member So Young An. Here, she shares thoughts on The EVE Project and how she's approaching her role in Circe, the 57-year-old work that invites audiences to consider pressing conversations about womanhood.

Keep reading...
Dance News
Instead of letting 1920s stereotypes of black dancers define her, Josephine Baker used her image to propel herself to stardom and eventually challenged social perceptions of black women. Photos courtesy of Dance Magazine archives

In honor of Black History Month, here are some of the most influential and inspiring black dancers who paved the way for future generations.

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: I'm having such a love-hate relationship with mirrors right now. They can be distracting, as well as cause emotional distress for my students. At the same time, they're a really useful tool. I know some teachers remove theirs altogether. Is this something you recommend?

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips

Susan Pilarre has been closely tied to the School of American Ballet for nearly her entire life.

From her first class there at age 11 through her 16-year career with its affiliated company, New York City Ballet, Pilarre learned directly from the great choreographer George Balanchine, absorbing the details of his unique style. Sensing her innate understanding of his principles, Balanchine encouraged her to teach; she joined SAB's permanent faculty in 1986. Since then, she has become recognized as an authority on Balanchine's teachings, instilling SAB and NYCB's distinctive speed, clarity and energy into generations of dancers.

Here, Pilarre shares how the specifics that Balanchine insisted upon in class contribute to the strength, beauty and musicality that define his style—and dispels common misconceptions.

Keep reading...

To celebrate Valentine's Day in the most dance-centric way possible, we sat down with five powerhouse dance-teaching couples to talk about their love stories. What do they admire about each other? What are their couple goals and their teaching philosophies, and how do they make their relationships work, especially when they work together? Get ready to swoon!

Keep reading...
For Parents
Photo by Paul B. Goode, courtesy of BAE

Watching through the studio windows—or even from the sidelines in a Mommy and Me class—can surely make parents wonder what exactly our little tykes are getting out of weekly ballet lessons. After all, they're repeating the same things class after class. Are they bored? Are they progressing? Why are they doing that again?

Keep reading...
Site Network
Photo by Nina Lokmadzhieva, courtesy of Varna IBC

The oldest ballet competition in the world doesn't have the funds for the show to go on: The 29th edition of the Varna International Ballet Competition, scheduled for July 12–30, 2020, has been postponed indefinitely.

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: I have a 15-year-old student who has problems keeping her heel fully on the ground during a demi-plié. How can I help her?

Keep reading...

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox