BOSTON (November 29, 2013)—Lightning fast repetition of precise footwork sets the stage for excellence in Irish dance, but it can also set the stage for overuse injuries. A recent survey of injuries among Irish dancers found that overuse injuries are common, with nearly 80 percent of injuries categorized as overuse. “The good news is that most overuse injuries can be prevented,” says Cynthia Stein, MD, MPH, from Boston Children’s Hospital’s Division of Sports Medicine. However, very few studies have examined injuries in Irish dance.
Dancers in all genres are susceptible to injury, and overuse injuries strike often because dancers spend so many hours rehearsing the same steps. Many tend to tough it out and dance through pain. “Dancers will dance as long as they are able. It’s usually when they are not able to dance that they visit a doctor,” says Stein. It’s this behavior, which may result in a more severe injury, that Stein hopes to change.
Boston’s rich Irish dance tradition offered the ideal setting to study injuries in Irish dance.
Stein and her colleagues, in the study published Nov. 4 in the Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, examined patient records for 255 dancers from 37 schools of dance, with injuries directly or partially related to dance. Almost 80 percent of injuries were overuse injuries. The foot, ankle, knee and hip were the most common injury sites.
Dancers often continue to rehearse through pain. That’s not a good idea, says Stein. “We want dancers to know the sooner they get pain checked out, the better. They may be afraid to see a doctor, worried that they will be told not to dance.” However, in many cases, particularly in the earlier stages of an overuse injury, a physician might suggest a slight change in technique, prescribe dance-focused physical therapy or modify training.
Other small changes may go a long way in preventing injuries. Warm-ups and cooldowns with stretching and core stabilization exercises may reduce injury risk, says Stein. She also recommends dancers, particularly younger students, take one or two days off a week from training. Teachers may want to consider mixing classes to minimize repetition, investing in sprung flooring to absorb shocks and allowing dancers to practice in padded, supportive shoes.
“The big message is not to dance through pain. If something doesn’t feel right, listen to your body,” says Stein.
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