Common Competitive Dancing Injuries

July 3, 2024

Dancers are known for their grace and agility, but the sport demands incredible strength and endurance that can come with a risk of injury. Orlin & Cohen’s Michele Murphy, licensed physical therapist and supervisor of rehabilitation services in Lynbrook, explains common dance injuries, what causes them, and how to prevent them.

dance injury

Why Do Dance Injuries Occur?

Stress on the body

Dancers and performing artists have always embraced the motto, “The show must go on!” This determination to perform despite the pain, combined with long rehearsal hours and no real off-season, can lead to sudden or chronic injuries. Continuous physical strain without adequate rest is a primary contributor to these injuries and also makes recovering from them challenging.

Poor nutrition

The pressure to maintain a certain body image often results in poor nutrition among dancers. Inadequate nutrition weakens the body, making it more susceptible to injuries. Nutritional deficiencies can hinder your recovery and exacerbate existing injuries, further compromising health.

Foot and Ankle Injuries

Achilles tendinitis

Achilles tendinitis in dancers is often described as a sharp or dull pain in the back of the ankle when pointing the foot, tapping, jumping, or rising on relevé. In severe cases, a slight swelling may form where the tendon attaches to the heel.

Ankle sprains

Ankle sprains typically occur when a dancer rolls their ankle during a jump, leap, or while dancing en pointe, causing ligament damage. These injuries may be accompanied by swelling and bruising but can also occur without such symptoms.


Bunions develop on the side of the big or pinky toe where the toe connects to the foot. Over time, the base of the toe increases in size, which can cause dancers pain in narrow-fitting shoes or when dancing in pointe shoes.

Knee Injuries

Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS)

PFPS, also known as runner’s or jumper’s knee, is a painful condition in the front of the knee triggered by jumping or extending the leg in développé or with pliés. It often occurs when the quad weakens, causing extra strain on the patellar tendon. Growth spurts in adolescents can also contribute to PFPS.

Tibial stress fractures

Tibial stress fractures are characterized by shin pain, commonly provoked by high-impact repetitive movements like jumping, leaping, and tap dancing. Poor nutrition and irregular menstrual cycles can compromise your bone density, increasing the risk of stress fractures.

Meniscus pain

Meniscus pain, experienced as sharp, dull, or pinch-like pain in the knee, often affects dancers with limited hip external rotation mobility or the ability to “turn out” the hip. This restriction forces dancers to turn out at the feet, resulting in extra torque and pressure on the knee that causes meniscus pain.

Hip Injuries

Snapping hip syndrome

Snapping hip syndrome involves a snapping or popping sensation in the hip with movement. This condition can occur in the front, side, or back of the hip and is caused by soft tissue (muscles, tendons, and bursae) rubbing over bony prominences in the hip. Although sometimes painless, it can lead to inflammation and future injuries.

Impingement syndrome

Maximizing hip mobility and flexibility is often one of the top goals for dancers. Therefore, the training to achieve this goal includes repetitive stress at maximum ranges of motion, which can lead to the impingement of soft tissues between two bony surfaces. Symptoms of hip impingement syndrome include sharp or pinch-like pain.

Labral tears

The cause of labral tears, or tears in the hip joint cartilage, is similar to that of hip impingement but can also occur with jumping or twisting motions. Pirouettes, for example, require full body weight on one leg, creating compression of the hip joint while rotating. Compression of the hip labrum combined with rotation can result in tearing. Symptoms are typically described as sharp pain, catching, clicking, popping, or instability of the hip.

Hip flexor tendinitis

Hip flexor tendinitis is characterized by sharp or dull pain in the front of the hip, limiting a dancer’s ability to lift their leg, leap, stretch into splits, lift into arabesque, développé, grand battement, or pirouette. This injury results from repetitive leg lifting without adequate stretching, warm-up, or strength.

Low back injuries

Low back pain in dancers generally involves sharp or dull pain, soreness, or stiffness. Causes include core weakness, excessive lordosis (arched back) while dancing, insufficient hip extension mobility, or poor stability and motor control. In some cases, low back injuries can result from movement compensations a dancer makes due to problems in other joints, including the knee, hip, and ankle.

Dance Injury Prevention

Ensure proper nutrition and hydration

Proper nutrition and hydration, during and outside dance class and rehearsal, are vital for injury prevention. Ensure your diet is rich in calcium and Vitamin D, crucial for maintaining bone density and strength and can reduce your risk of stress fractures.

Strengthen your core

The core muscles are located in the abdomen, lower back, pelvis, and hips and work together to stabilize and support the spine and pelvis. These muscles are crucial for maintaining proper posture, balance, and stability during movement. Barre work in ballet class is essential to any dance style to train your core and prevent injury.

Allow time for rest and recovery

Ensuring adequate rest after intense training or performances is essential. You should take two to three rest or active recovery days per week. Your active recovery may include walking and other low-impact activities like stretching.

Get a physical therapy evaluation

Being evaluated by a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) specializing in performing arts is crucial for identifying risk factors and training corrections before injuries occur. A performing arts physical therapist can also review performance footage to identify real-time compensations or risk factors.

At Orlin & Cohen, our team of licensed physical therapists includes DPTs, certified strength & conditioning specialists (CSCS), and those certified in sports medicine evaluations, including selective functional movement assessment (SFMA). They can identify imbalances and dysfunctional patterns and create a personalized treatment plan to improve your movement and enhance your functional performance.

Address pain right away

The most critical preventative measure is being honest with yourself and addressing pain early. Speaking up about pain when your body signals distress can prevent long-term problems. Yes, the show must go on, but not at the cost of your health and well-being.

Orlin & Cohen’s top-ranked orthopedic specialists offer immediate appointments and after-hours care on weeknights and weekends so you can get the care you need when you need it.

Request a same-day or next-day appointment, or find a location near you.