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Injury Prevention and Management for Dancers

The end of Physical Therapy month inspired us to sit down with Merrithew Master Instructor Trainers Wayne Seeto and Laureen DuBeau to find out some of the common ailments that dancers suffer from as well as the type of treatment and Pilates programming that can help manage these ailments and prevent further injuries.

Total Barre ballet dance fitness

Q: What are some common ailments that dancers suffer from? What ailments are most common among dancers?

There are a number of ailments common to dancers including: Achilles tendinopathy, plantar fasciitis, iliopsoas tendinopathy and a variety of lower extremity dysfunctions and movement related dysfunctions.  Many of these conditions, specifically those that are hip-related, are created by improper placement of the femoral head (anterior femoral head syndrome), and include bursitis of the hip. The femur is often more forward and not moving in the socket efficiently, which can result in clicking of the hip, causing irritation at the front of the hip, which will start to tighten up. Muscle shortening and tightening of the gastrocnemius is also quite common, due to the amount of plantar flexion required. Over time, these ailments can cause instability, and may result in other compensations and complications.

Q: What type of treatments can help dancers with these problems? To prevent and avoid injury when possible?

In order to help dancers treat current, as well as prevent future injuries, it is essential to perform a weak-link assessment and build a program around the identified weak areas. This should be followed by a complete movement assessment to identify contributing factors to these pathologies. For example, iliopsoas tendinopathy, anterior femoral head syndrome, and bursitis of the hip, can all be improved with an exercise program that focuses on some of the associated contributing factors. Often times the gluteus maximus is weak, and the posterior capsule is tight; so exercises that work to reset the femoral head will offer the best results.

In terms of Achilles tendinopathy and plantar fasciitis, an overworked gastrocnemius may be cited, however, it might be over used because the hip muscles are weak. This can also be caused by an unstable pelvis, where proximal control will need to be improved in order to offset the driver of that issue. It would also be a good idea to improve the control of the dorsiflexors, which can sometimes be weak and unable to oppose the plantar flexors. Overall, the goal of the most effective program should be to reset the femoral head, strengthen the glutes, stabilize and strengthen the local hip muscles to build proximal control, improve gastrocnemius flexibility and increase control of the dorsiflexors.

Find out more about rehab for athletes and how to integrate modified STOTT PILATES® exercises for injury prevention and treatment here.

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