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.

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Julianna D. Photography, courtesy of Abreu

Although Rudy Abreu is currently JLo's backup dancer and an award-winning choreographer—his piece "Pray" tied for second runner-up at the 2018 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and a variation of the piece made it to the finals on NBC's "World of Dance"—he still finds time to teach. Especially about how he hears music.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Dance Teacher Web
Courtesy Dance Teacher Web

Dance students aren't the only ones who get to spend their summers learning new skills and refining their dance practice. Studio owners and administrators can also use the summer months to scope out new curriculum ideas, learn the latest business strategies and even earn a certification or two.

At Dance Teacher Web's Conference and Expo, attendees will spend July 29–August 1 in Las Vegas, Nevada learning everything from new teaching methods to studio management software. And as if the dance and business seminars weren't enough, participants can also choose from three certifications to earn during the conference to help expand their expertise, generate new revenue and set their studios apart:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

James Payne, director of The School of Pennsylvania Ballet, starts class each day by asking students how they feel. "If they're collectively hurting, and I know that the day before they were working hard on something new, I might lessen the intensity of the class," he says. "I won't slow it down, though. Sometimes it's better to move through the aches and get to the other side."

A productive class depends, in part, on how well it is paced. If you move too slow, you risk losing students' interest and creating unwanted heaviness. Move too fast and dancers might not fully benefit from combinations or get sufficiently warm, increasing their risk of injury. But even these guidelines may differ depending on the students' age and level. Good pacing is a delicate balance that can facilitate mental and physical growth, but it requires good planning, close observation and the ability to adapt mid-class.

Keep reading... Show less
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
Getty Images

Q: Our dancers' parents want to observe class, but students won't focus if I let them in the room. I've tried having them observe the last 10 minutes of class, but even that can be disruptive and bring the dancers' progress to a halt. Do you have any advice on how to handle this?

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Running your own studio often comes with a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality. After all, you're the one who teaches class, creates choreography, collects tuition, plans a recital, calls parents, answers e-mails, orders costumes—plus a host of other tasks, some of which you probably don't even think about. But what if you had someone to help you, someone who could take certain routine or clerical tasks off your hands, freeing you up to focus on what you love?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Derek and Julianne Hough via @juleshough on Instagram

Here at Dance Teacher, we LOVE a talented dance family. Something about parents and siblings passing their passion for dance down to those who come after them just warms our hearts.

While there are many sets of talented siblings across all genres of dance, ballroom seems to be particularly booming with them.

Don't believe us? Check out these four sets of ballrooms siblings we can't take our eyes off of. Their parents have raised them right!

This is far from a comprehensive list, so feel free to share your favorite sets of dance siblings over in our comments!

Keep reading... Show less
Courtesy of Roxey Ballet

This weekend, Roxey Ballet presented a sensory-friendly production of Cinderella at the Kendell Main Stage Theater in Ewing, New Jersey, with sound adjustments, a relaxed house environment and volunteers present to assist audience members with special needs. The production came on the heels of three educational residencies held at New Jersey–based elementary schools in honor of Autism Awareness Month in April.

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Shared via Dance Teacher Network Facebook

I'm a part of a popular group on Facebook called Dance Teacher Network which consists of dance teachers across the country discussing and sharing information on all things dance. Yesterday morning, I spotted a photo shared in the group of four smiling young boys in a dance studio. And I couldn't help but smile to myself and think, "Wow, I never had that...that's pretty damn amazing."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Marr

When Erica Marr discovered ballroom dancing in her late teens, she instantly fell in love with the Latin beats and strong drum lines that challenged her musicality. After shifting her focus away from contemporary and jazz, she began studying with elite ballroom coaches in New York City and quickly earned a World Championship title in her division.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Thinkstock

Q: I own a studio in a city that has a competitive dance market. I've seen other studios in my community put ads on Instagram and Facebook for open-call auditions in April, long before most studios have finished their competition season and year-end recitals. Is this fair?

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox