What is an Overuse Injury?

           Taking time out each day to relax and renew is essential to living well. ~Judith Hanson Lasater

           Any type of physical activity is accompanied by a risk of injury, and dance is no exception. Research done on dancers reports injury rates as high as 95% in professional ballet dancers and as high as 82% in professional contemporary dancers. Even recreational dancers experience injuries. A 2010 study reported that 42.6% of female recreational dancers under the age of 16 experienced an injury.
            Some injuries are acute, meaning they are due to one specific traumatic event like a fall, a collision or a poor landing that leads to a fracture, a sprain, a dislocation, or a muscle strain. These injuries are treated right away and have a predictable recovery time – a sprain may require 1-2 weeks in an aircast followed by physical therapy, and a fracture may require a cast for 6 weeks followed by physical therapy.

            Chronic injuries, however, are less predictable. These injuries happen over a long period of time. Unfortunately, they are the most common injuries among dancers and are the most difficult and challenging injuries to treat.

            Exercise places stress upon our bones, tendons, and muscles. This type of stress is a good thing because it causes changes within our body. Slight tears occur in muscles so that the body can rebuild muscles and create stronger tissue. When stress is placed on bones, the body’s response is to add another layer of protection by depositing collagen molecules on bone surfaces to form a matrix that hardens into another layer of bone.

            Unfortunately, when dancers increase the amount of hours they dance, add rehearsal hours into their schedules, or try to add extra classes to get back in shape quickly after a break, they often do not allow the body enough time to rest and go through the rebuilding process before it is once again placed under stress.  The result of this imbalance between time spent dancing and time spent resting is repetitive small traumas in the body tissues that never quite get repaired.

            Eventually, these micro-traumas will accumulate, and the dancer will begin to experience constant pain or aching in specific parts of the body that turn out to be tendinitis, shinsplints or stress fractures. When dancers continue to work when the body is tired, they are also more likely to compensate by using incorrect muscles and disupting skeletal alignment and not paying careful attention to proper technique.

            Once identified, these injuries often require complete rest, which results in missed classes, rehearsals, and, maybe even, performances. Since the injury developed over time, it makes sense it will also need time to heal.

              Some ways to avoid overuse injuries are to listen to our bodies when they are tired, constantly evaluate our technique, and be mindful about our alignment. Doing these things will help to minimize the risk of a dancer developing an overuse injury and help dancers to dance without pain.
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