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Good Moves for Young Dancers

Get well soon: tips for preventing and treating injuries

overview

Whether your child is tapping, step dancing, or pirouetting her way across the stage, it’s important to remember that her art is also a sport, and one that isn’t without risks. It’s a fact that up to 80 percent of dancers will have a dance-related injury at some point in their career.

“The pursuit requires hours upon hours of practice and performances which, combined with challenging techniques, put a lot of pressure on the body and can often lead to injury,” says Tracy Zaslow, MD, a sports medicine physician at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. But before you tell your child to hang up her dance shoes, read on for expert advice on preventing—and treating—common injuries that affect dancers of all levels.

 

one

Practice makes perfect, but the repetition involved in repeatedly performing the same moves can result in overuse injuries, such as stress fractures, tendonitis, sprains and strains as well as shin splints from rehearsing on bad surfaces—particularly in tap dancing. The feet and ankles are most commonly affected, but your child may also complain of pain in the knees, lower back, and hips, especially if she hasn’t mastered proper technique. (Something as seemingly simple as improper turnout, for example, can send your ballerina limping home if the rotation comes from her feet instead of her hips.) That’s why it’s so important to choose a studio where the instructors pay careful attention to form. Additionally, the studio should incorporate strength training into classes as dancers progress, since weak muscles can lead to the uncontrolled landings that cause injury.

two

Easy does it. Be cautious if your child suddenly ramps up her hours on the dance floor, whether she transitions from a once-a-week lesson to a daily summer camp, or advances to a new level that demands more practice. If she doesn’t have the strength or endurance to manage her new schedule, she could push herself beyond her abilities and hurt herself, warns Lisa Apple, a sports physical therapist at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

To progress without pain, have your dancer gradually increase her rehearsal time by no more than 10 percent each week. No matter how seriously she is training, she should have at least one day off every week to allow her body to rest and recover. And be wary of teachers who push extra practice; their focus may be on the end product—a perfect performance—rather than your child’s safety.

three

Age Matters. While kids of all ages are at risk of dance injuries, they are more likely to hurt themselves during growth spurt years (ages 8 to 12 for girls and 10 to 14 for boys). Bones grow extremely fast at this time, and muscles can’t keep up, which leads to tight and weakened ligaments that are prone to injury, explains Quyng Hoang, MD, a pediatric sports medicine physician at Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora, CO.

Children’s bones also lose strength during growth spurts, making them susceptible to stress fractures. When your child’s growth spurt starts, talk to her dance instructor to discuss whether her body is capable of the techniques being taught. This is especially critical if she practices ballet and is being considered as ready for pointe work. Learn more about dancing on pointe and pointe shoes with Gear: Pointe Shoe.

four

Focus on food. As a parent, it’s crucial to be aware of the pressure to be thin that many dancers face, as well as the unhealthy eating habits that are often born from these weight worries. Studies show that adolescent pre-professional dancers consume less than 70 percent of their recommended daily energy needs. Not only can an inadequate diet have long-term damaging effects on the body, but bone health may be compromised when nutrient needs aren’t met, again increasing the risk of stress fractures.

If your child feels that she needs to lose weight to better her performance, a doctor should be involved in the discussion. Your physician will be able to advise how much weight loss is safe, as well as provide a well-rounded diet to follow that will fuel your dancer through practices and performances. If you ever suspect that your child is losing too much weight, dropping the pounds too quickly, or suffering from body image issues, it’s important to get professional help.

five

Pain isn’t normal. If your child complains of discomfort, have her take a break from rehearsing until the pain subsides. Remind her that the worst thing she can do is ignore the pain, as dancing through it will only worsen the injury and potentially make it a chronic condition. If you suspect she has a minor injury, such as a pulled muscle, put ice on the area and, if she is not allergic, give her acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain. But if she’s still uncomfortable after three days or the area is numb, tingling, swollen, red, or has limited movement, consult a physician.

Whether your child’s dance career is a childhood hobby or something that she intends to pursue professionally, appropriate instruction and smart injury-prevention practices, combined with a healthy diet, can help keep her on her toes.

Credits

Writers

Rachel Morris

Editors & Producers

Lisa Resnick
Content Editor

ARTSEDGE [TB]

Sources

Tracy Zaslow, MD
A sports medicine physician at Children's Hospital Los Angeles

Lisa Apple
A sports medicine therapist at Seattle Children's Hospital

Quyng Hoang, MD
A pediatric sports medicine physician at Children's Hospital Colorado in Aurora, CO

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