When assessing sports injuries, most people commonly think about athletes in contact sports such as football, wrestling, soccer, etc. However, there is a different type of athlete that often goes unrecognized. Dancers, especially competitive dancers, twist and contort their bodies far beyond the capabilities of non-dancers and can often suffer the consequences. Flexibility is seen as a staple for any dancer, and overstretching is often encouraged in order to achieve the perfect aesthetic on stage.
Some of the most common injuries seen with dancers are hip injuries, including muscle strains, labral tears, femoroacetabular impingement, osteoarthritis, and snapping hip syndrome. These injuries can occur as a result of excessive external rotation of the hips or “turnout.” Dancers train to be able to turnout past the normal range of motion of the hip, which is generally recognized as being 0-45 degrees for active external rotation. The hip is responsible for 70% of this motion, followed by the knees and ankles which account for the remaining 30%. Thus, the turnout is largely stressful on the hip joint itself. This hypermobility of the hips causes instability in the joint, which can then predispose the dancer to injury. The injured athlete will often present with hip pain or a snapping sound, in the case of snapping hip syndrome.
One of the best ways to prevent hip injury is through strength training. Dancers should be encouraged to maximize glute and core muscle strength, as well as increasing their amount of aerobic activity. Classes like yoga or Pilates focus on strengthening these muscle groups and can be of benefit to dancers. Hypermobility causes instability, and strengthening these muscle groups assists in stabilizing the hip joint, thus decreasing the chance of injury. In addition to strength training, the dancer should make sure to take rest days between intense training days, hydrate, wear appropriate footwear outside of the studio, and lead a generally healthy lifestyle.
Of course, if the dancer does experience pain or discomfort in the hips, he or she should contact his or her primary care physician for evaluation. Often, rest, ice or heat, compression, and elevation can alleviate the pain. The physician will want to do a physical exam to assess the injury and may refer the dancer for rehabilitation, strength training, and/or order imaging to assess for ligament tears or osteoarthritis if appropriate. If you are a dancer with hip pain, there are medical professionals that want to help keep you dancing.
By Alee Vladyka and Stephanie O’Brien