Dance taxes its participants’ bodies in a way unlike any other sport. Though the movements vary by type of dance, the activity generally requires bending, jumping and balancing in ways that the human body is not accustomed to. This is especially true for rigid forms of dance like ballet and pointe. The unique demands placed on dancers explains the high instance of dance back pain.
Movements performed by dancers pose risks to the lower back and hip area (called the lumbopelvic complex). Many forms of dance encourage an anterior pelvic tilt, meaning the pelvis is tilted downward in front and the lower back arch is increased. This compresses spinal joints and the muscles of the lower back. Hip flexor muscles, which run between the thigh and lower back across the hip, are shortened and tensed by this position. Often, tight lower back and hip muscles are coupled with weak gluteus maximus and rectus abdominus muscles. Over time, this muscle imbalance combined with training behaviors can lead to a lack of flexion in the lower back as well as joint problems throughout the lower back and hips.
Of course, not all back and hip pain originate from those locations. A study entitled “Low Back Pain In Young Dancers,” found at www.fasciaresearch.com, sought to assess risk factors for back pain among this demographic. The study concluded that risk factors are increasing age throughout teen years, abnormal foot or ankle range of motion and knee or ankle injuries. As young dancers age, the muscle imbalances they’ve accrued through years of rigorous practice become ingrained and begin to cause pain and dysfunction. Problems with the knee, ankle and/or foot affect the angle and loading of every joint up through the back.
Dance injury prevention is possible. This process should begin with proper, informed training that encourages muscle balance. Young dancers should learn about their muscles, which ones they use most during a typical dance session and how to train neglected muscles outside of class. Dancers specifically need to focus on building strong stabilizer muscles to support their open chain movements. See www.livestrong.com for ideas on how to do so.
Dance instructors should be keenly aware of the posture of their dancers. If you’re a dancer who doesn’t get input concerning your form, seek an instructor who will assess your body mechanics from head to toe.
If you have an injury, don’t attempt to do the same dance moves you always do; you’ll unduly tax joints and muscles surrounding the injured site and possibly cause a chain reaction of injury. Maintaining muscle tone and cardiovascular health during an injury is important; seek other forms of exercise while injured.
If body mechanics are not addressed early on, young dancers can find themselves unable to do the activity they love beyond their teen years. Childhood overuse injuries are increasingly becoming a source of chronic pain among those who played sports as children.
Lower back pain and other problems are preventable among dancers. Both prevention and recovery require education.