Chiropractic Care – The Dance Advantage

From ballet to break dancing, the hallmarks of a good dancer’s performance are the same: grace, fluidity and mobility. But these attributes are not created overnight. At Linford Chiropractic, we treat dancers of all ages who have demanding schedules that often involve weekly practices, or in the case of professional dancers, are required to perform up to eight stage performances a week. As you can imagine, people who need to keep up with this level of activity are bound to suffer from the occasional injury.

For dancers the correct alignment of the body’s structure directly impacts the quality of their performance, lifespan of their career and overall wellbeing as a performing artist. Practicing movements and patterns time after time can lead to repetitive strains, which can affect the dancer’s ability to execute and focus on technique. Ballistic movements and tumbles come with the territory and can take a toll on the body over time. Many dancers simply accept aches and pains in their feet, ankles, knees, hip and back as part of the package of being a performing artist but this doesn’t have to be the case.

While most people associate chiropractic care with back pain, more and more dancers rely on chiropractors to not only treat problems that often arise but to help dancers perform at their optimal best.

It all comes down to mechanics: the body is a machine made of moveable parts and subject to the stresses placed upon it. Over time, these stresses can present itself as stiffness, snapping, aching or restrictions to movement leading to poor form and inefficient mechanics. Many times dancers will push through the pain in the hopes that it will just resolve itself, but this can make it worse. When pain or restricted mobility impairs the movement of the body the dance and the artistic expression suffers.

Maintaining proper mobility/flexibility throughout the body allows dancers to perform their moves with more ease and efficiency while decreasing their risk of repetitive strain injuries due to poor mechanics. Dancing requires coordination and balance, which stem from strong muscles, bones and ligaments. If your body is out of alignment it can be vulnerable to injuries when you bust a move on the dance floor.

Chiropractic adjustments restore mobility to restricted joints as well as assessing the soft tissues (muscles/tendons and ligaments) for undue tension leading to imbalances in the spine/pelvis and legs.  Studies have shown that dancers with low thigh strength levels and hamstrings that were disproportionately weaker than the quadriceps had a greater degree of injury in the lower extremity. Maintaining hip and pelvic mobility is paramount to a dancer’s mobility.

Why are dancers suffering injuries and can chiropractic help?

Researchers have sought to answer the former by focusing on various dance forms and the biomechanical loads endured by each respective artist. In ballet dancers, focus has been placed on benign joint hypermobility as a potential indicator for injury; however, research indicates that most injuries occur as a result of overuse (1, 2).  In one study of ballet dancers, seventy-six per cent of all injuries occurred in the lower extremities. The most significant injury reported was ankle sprains (3). Evidently, the types of injuries experienced will reflect the style of dance being performed and rehearsed. In a study of bboys (a.k.a break dancers), the most common injuries (69%) were in the wrist (4) – some enduring non union scaphoid fractures (5). However, a ballet dancer (particularly females) will rarely report wrist injuries. A ballet dancer en pointe will have disparate biomechanical demands when compared with a popper, locker, or bboy; hence, will have exceedingly different rehabilitation and preventive strategies in a clinical environment.

In an article by Dr. Scott Howitt, risk factors that relate to dance injuries are both intrinsic and extrinsic. The intrinsic risk factors include: anatomical characteristics, biomechanical imbalance, past medical history and dance experience. Extrinsic risk factors include: improper training, faulty technique, fatigue, stress, diet, flooring, and footwear.

Chiropractic addresses both intrinsic and extrinsic risk factors. A physical assessment and treatment – including a comprehensive history, biomechanical analysis, and manual muscle testing- can be paramount to both injury prevention and injury management in dancers. Chiropractic addresses various questions: Does the dancer have biomechanical impairment in the feet such as pes planus (or flat feet)? Does the dancer require a custom orthotic that could be utilized in the dance or training shoe? Is there sufficient lateral hip stability and quadricep strength? Are the hamstrings disproportionately weak relative to the quadriceps? (6). Does the dancer have benign joint hypermobility syndrome? Is there observable hypermobility in the hip flexors, hamstrings, and adductors, yet below average flexibility in the internal and external rotators of the hip? Are the external hip rotators disproportionately strong relative to the internal rotators of the hip? Chiropractic care can effectively address these questions and restore optimal joint motion – particularly in dancers who endure excessive and repetitive compressive spinal forces. Examples: bboys (headspins, hollow back), traditional dancers (Arabesque position/extensions), acro dancers (chest stands), and hip hop dancers (rocking/rapid flexion-to-extension movements). Chiropractic addresses biomechanical impairments that can cause or prolong injuries, and provides homecare strategies targeting prevention. Manual muscle release techniques can release restrictive adhesions (or scar tissue); hence, restore mobility to soft tissue layers including injured muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Importantly, manual muscle techniques prevent exacerbation or re injury. Howitt’s article states that 30-50 per cent of dancers are injured annually, and the lifetime injury incidence is 90%. Hence, it is exceptionally important, with respect to career longevity, that dance artists receive regular chiropractic care focused on injury management, maintenance, and prevention.

For any dancer to perform optimally all parts must be functioning and moving at their best. Regular adjustments, scheduled in tandem with your practice schedule (preferably prior to a practice session), will improve your performance significantly.

Whether you’re taking a recreational hip hop or ballet class or performing professionally, give Linford Chiropractic a call (780-640-9488) for your dancing advantage! Your body will thank you!

  1. Scott Howitt. Chiropractic Takes Centre Stage: Treating overuse injuries in the world of dance. Canadian Chiropractor. Retrieved June 25, 2017, from http://www.canadianchiropractor.ca/content/view/1098/
  2. Nilsson, et al. Spinal sagittal mobility and joint laxity in young ballet dancers.Knee Surgery, Sports Traumatology, Arthroscopy 1993; 1 (3-4), 206-208
  3. Charlotte Leanderson et al. Musculoskeletal injuries in young ballet dancers. Knee Surgery, Sports Traumatology, Arthroscopy 2011; 19 (9); 1531-1535
  4. Chul Hyun Cho, et al. Musculoskeletal injuries in break-dancers. Injury, Int. J. Care Injured 2009; 1207-1211
  5. Cho C, Song K, Min B, Bae K, Lee K, Kim S. Scaphoid Nonunion in Break-Dancers: A Report of 3 Cases. 1; 32
  6. Koutedakis Y, A Jamurtas. The Dancer as a Performing Athlete: Physiological Considerations. Sports Med 2004; 34 (10); 651-661.