Dancers suffer injuries as often as other athletes. One study showed that more than 80 percent of dance injuries were related to overuse, especially in the case of classical ballet. Another study of modern dancers showed that a total of 82 percent of the dancers had suffered between one and seven injuries, with the most common injury sites being the foot and ankle, lower back, and knee.
Regardless of the type of dance, the risk of injury is always there, especially in professionals and serious amateurs. Taking steps to prevent injury is always a smart approach, but when dance injuries do occur, physical therapy and cryotherapy can help speed up the recovery process for a faster return to activity.
Common Dance Injuries
Dancers can suffer from many different types of injuries, but a handful stand out as occurring most frequently. The majority of injuries occur in the lower body, specifically in the feet, ankles, knees, and hips, but injuries to the lower back and upper extremities are not uncommon.
Foot and ankle injuries
Constant impact on the floor and repetitive motions can lead to overuse injuries such as:
- Achilles tendinitis - Inflammation that causes pain down the back of the leg and around the heel
- Trigger toe - Inflammation in the FHL tendon that makes it difficult or impossible to flex the big toe
- Ankle impingement - Compression of the bony or soft tissue structures caused by pointing
Interestingly, dancers experience a lower incidence of ACL injuries than other types of athletes, most likely because learning to perform jumps at a younger age increases control in the muscles surrounding the knee joint. However, patellofemoral pain syndrome affects many dancers, primarily because of overuse and tightness in the hamstrings and Achilles tendon. This injury is characterized by a dull pain in the front of the knee, a kneecap that is tender to the touch, and sometimes a clicking or grinding sound when the joint moves.
Dance technique requires significant turnout in the hip joint, which can lead to injuries such as:
- Snapping hip syndrome - A snapping sensation when the hip is flexed and extended
- Hip impingement - Pinching in the ball-and-socket joint of the hip
- Labral tears - A tear in the cartilage that lines the hip socket
- Hip flexor tendinitis - Painful inflammation in the hip flexor muscles
- Hip bursitis - Inflammation in the bursa in the hip joint
- Sacroiliac joint dysfunction - Improper motion of the joints that connect the sacrum to the pelvis
Stress fractures are yet another overuse injury that many dancers suffer over the course of a career. These typically occur in the lower body, and primarily in the:
- Lumbar spine
Physical Therapy Exercises
No dancer wants to be sidelined by an injury, especially when performances are scheduled. Physical therapy can contribute to the recovery from many common dance injuries and also help with future prevention. The specific exercises that a physical therapist recommends will depend on the injury and a number of other factors, but some exercises dancers can expect to see include:
- Hip flexor stretch
- Hip flexion with resistance
- Assisted hip extension
- Hip abduction with resistance
- Stretching and strengthening the Achilles tendon
- Slow, gentle stretching of the big toe
- Muscle strengthening to help prevent stress fractures
In addition to exercises, a physical therapist might also recommend ultrasound therapy, the use of braces or other supportive devices, and cryotherapy.
How Cryotherapy in Physical Therapy Helps
Cryotherapy in physical therapy can help accelerate the healing process in a number of ways. In addition to relieving the pain and swelling associated with inflammation, cryotherapy may:
- Slow down cellular metabolism
- Bring fresh blood and nutrients to promote healing
- Help limit the formation of excessive scar tissue
- Enable pain treatment with little or no medication
- Prevent the buildup of excess fluid, or edema
- Stimulate tissue repair for a faster recovery
Cryotherapy can be delivered in a number of ways. The most familiar is the traditional ice pack, but physical therapists are also able to offer more sophisticated solutions. A cryotherapy system combines the delivery of therapeutic cold with active compression that pumps away excess fluid and increases circulation to help promote faster healing.
Like working with any other type of medical professional, it’s important to find a physical therapist who has the right qualifications, expertise, and treatment approach for your injury. If you’re suffering from a dance injury and looking for a physical therapist, download our free Checklist for Finding a Physical Therapist to help guide you through the process. One key factor to look for is whether the provider offers cryotherapy in physical therapy, so ask whether they use Game Ready in the clinic and if you can rent a system for use at home.