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Preventing Dance Injuries: Part 1: Introduction

Preventing Dance Injuries: Part 1: Introduction

Dancer's Legs Author: Paul F. Clifford

Many experienced dancers are fairly careless with their own musculoskeletal and neuromuscular health. Hey! We dance so much. Why should we bother to do warm-ups before going dancing? We have experienced so many minor and major dance floor injuries; we know the risks and how to avoid them! Don't we? General health! What has our general health got to do with dancing? If I'm sick, I stay in bed. If I'm well I go dancing! Where's the risk in that? Dance is in my blood! Why should I go to dance classes?

If you are a beginner or experienced dancer and have these sorts of attitude, be warned, you are immediately at risk of accumulating damage that can result in you sustaining a long term injury.

Beginner dances, social dancers and even experienced dancers can be a big threat to themselves! Often, they have no idea of what they are doing to their bodies and as some medical/dance journals have noted, have no idea of the risks associated with popular dancing.

Personal experience and knowledge about your own limitations is essential in avoiding a dance injury but of more importance, especially for the male, dancers need to understand the limitations of their partner's body! That especially applies to Salsa and other Latin dancers! For instance: If you improperly lead a girl into a spin and she has a weak knee, ankle joints or just plain tired, she can lose balance and fall and that could cause a real physical injury to both of you.

This article is the first in a series aimed to help you understand your body and the causes and prevention of dance related injuries. Even the most minor injury can escalate into something major if you aren't aware of the consequences. I am not a member of the medical profession; so if you have any queries or concerns about your health, please see your doctor. These articles are informational only. What I present is a sharing of what I have derived from the net, books, other sources and from recent personal experience.

In my case I've been a virtual cripple for many months. Yeah! I feel sorry for me too! It's been a real pain (pardon the pun). I have had a recurring injury that started as a result of someone treading on my foot and which over time compounded into something far more serious affecting my entire leg and my general health. But that is a long story, which I won't go into here.

When I was teaching dance, my insurance company gave me a little speech that they recommended I give before each class. Basically it went, "Dancing is a sport, like any sport there is a risk of injury. If you are pregnant, have a heart condition, an existing injury or any other condition that might impede your enjoyment of the class, please tell your teacher so he/she can advise you" Apart from the practicalities of this little speech, I found that by giving it, I gained excellent class loyalty. From their perspective, I showed care for them (which I had anyway) and it gave them confidence to tell me things they wanted kept secret but which were impeding their learning process. Often it was some physical problem, but sometimes it was something with deeper roots. Mental stress can also put a dancer at risk of injury. Nervousness in class or just life issues can tax your concentration and that can be dangerous for you and your partner.

Generally, teachers are nice people and there to help. So, if you have a problem, talk to your teacher! If I was made aware of a problem, I often modified what I had planned to teach or taught a variation of a move to reduce the risk factors. Most teachers will do the same! Sometimes, I would have to recommend that the dancer not attempt a move and a couple of times I had to suggest that they see their doctor and discontinue class for a period of time. Once I had to quietly take a male student aside and request that he sit down when I taught certain moves. The girls were complaining that he was causing them great shoulder pain. This problem was solved by him having a couple of private lessons to fix his leads. Even though some girls blame male leads for some aches and pains they suffer, it is often obvious; it is them fighting the leads that was causing their problems. Sometimes this was just man-hate, but more often it was just lack of confidence, private lessons can help. For both males and females, it is advisable to realise, that your attitude towards your partner can increase your risk of encountering a dance injury! Injuries can be avoided by thinking of your partner first. A little polite consideration for your partner and other dancers on the dance floor may prevent you from being injured!

These are some of the more esoteric factors that can lead to dance related injuries. However, there are more practical issues that need to be considered to avoid problems.

I was teaching in a club and had no direct control over the state of the amenities. So, my insurer also suggested I request the students to inform me of any defects in these amenities. The most important being anything spilt on the dance floor, tears in the carpet and anything that people might trip over. When I first took out personal and profession liability insurance for the classes, my insurer explained to me that they hadn't had a claim arising directly from a dance class in over five years. However, there was a risk that people could encounter a minor incident (such as slipping on stairs) prior to class or in a break, complete a class and aggravate the existing condition leading to a severe injury.

Think about that for a minute! You slip on the stairs, a common enough occurrence. Probably has happened to everyone. You might even have felt a twinge of pain in your ankle, knee or back. The pain goes away in a couple of minutes and you forget about it and get on with life. It is too minor to worry about! Even if the pain is momentarily intense, the embarrassment factor might come into play. If you are with a group of people you don't want to be known as a clumsy fool, so unless the pain is unbearable, you make every effort to save face, even if it means putting up with discomfort for a lengthy period of time. Not really sensible, but when your trying to fit in or impress a potential partner, it is this human reaction that nearly everyone in a male eccentric culture seems to invoke.

Even in the most minor accident, if you feel a twinge of pain, no matter how momentary it is, you have done damage to your body! That’s why you have pain! It is your body's way of telling you to pay attention, something is wrong and “we are sending in an emergency team to try and fix the problem, please give us your co-operation! If pain persists, we need backup! Please see your doctor.”

Okay! Let's image you are late for class; you're rushing up a flight of stairs and you slip. You are in a hurry, the pain you felt was fleeting, so you think nothing of it and go into class. You learn a fun move called the "lay back". That night you go home, your knee is aching a little. Next morning your knee is aching a lot! So, what happened?

Part 2: Avoiding Injury To The Knee
Part 3: Avoiding Injury to the Foot and Ankle
Part 4: Anatomy of the Foot and Ankle

Copyright Paul F Clifford (2000)
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