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Irish Step Dancing: Prevent These Common Injuries

Author: CHKD Sports Medicine
Published Date: Wednesday, May 10, 2017

By: Ahna Sweeney, PTA

Irish step dance is a style of performance dance with its roots in Ireland. Dancers perform as soloists or in groups. The dance is characterized by a stiff, upright posture and quick movements of the feet.

Common Injuries

A study of injury patterns in female Irish dancers identified the most common injuries that should be treated by sports medicine physicians. Most of these injuries were found in the lower extremities and included stress fractures, patellofemoral pain syndrome and Sever’s disease. Other common injuries were ankle sprains, posterior tibialis tendonitis and plantar fasciitis. Most of the dancers in this study had multiple injuries.

Causes of Injury

A recent review of dance-related research identified the most common causes of Irish dance injury to include improper training, faulty technique, environmental hazards, structural deformity of the foot and biomechanical imbalance. Improper training may include inadequate warm-ups, repetitive jumping, poor alignment of body weight and ignored fatigue or overuse. Faulty technique is seen in “sickling” (forefoot varus en pointe) or the opposite “winging” (forefoot valgus en pointe). Additionally, dancers may have foot overpronation, which is seen when the feet roll in.

Environmental hazards include hard floors and improperly fitted shoes. Structural deformity of the foot includes hallux rigidus, hallux valgus, pes cavus and pes planus. Lastly, biomechanical imbalances include poor core strength, weak eccentric leg strength, pelvic imbalance, Achilles tendon tightness and hypermobility. All of these factors can be improved with physical training and proper instruction from teachers.

Injury Rehabilitation and Prevention

Through his research with dancers, Alexandros Malkogeorgos found five main areas of injury. They are warm up, training, equipment, regulatory and self-care. For Irish step dancers, training should include plyometrics to enhance the height of their jumps, muscle strength and power, muscle endurance, joint stability and balance. For dances performed in hard shoes, dancers may be on their toes as a ballerina would be en pointe. Endurance and strength of calf muscles is important in maintaining proper technique. Core stability and strength are necessary to support the load and force of the lower body as well as upper body support as dancers are graded on their posture and minimal arm movement.

Proper equipment includes sprung floors and appropriate footwear. Sprung floors are wood floors that are suspended above the hard subfloor. The suspension allows the force of the dancer’s weight to be dispersed. It is important for dance floors to not be too slick or have too much friction between the floor and the dancer’s shoe.

Self-care is provided through proper education from a teacher, a therapist or through the dancer’s own research. Dancers should be aware of proper technique and mechanics, treatment of acute injuries and prevention of common injuries.

At CHKD, we offer services for children, teens and young adults provided by our doctors, physical therapists and exercise specialists, including dance programs and assessments. Our goal is to get our patients safely back in the game - or for dancers, back on the stage. Physical therapists can help dancers recover from injuries to get them back to their practices, performances and competitions and also assist in the prevention of future injuries.


References:

  • Malkogeorgos A, Mavrovouniotis F, Zaggelidis G, Ciucurel C. Common dance related musculoskeletal injuries. J Phys Educ Sport. 2011;11(3):259–266.
  • Noon M, Hoch AZ, Mcnamara L, Schimke J. Injury Patterns in Female Irish Dancers. Pm&r. 2010;2(11):1030-1034. doi:10.1016/j.pmrj.2010.05.013.
  • Russell J. Preventing dance injuries: current perspectives. OAJSM Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine. 2013:199. doi:10.2147/oajsm.s36529

About CHKD Sports Medicine

CHKD's sports medicine program offers the most comprehensive care for your young athlete. From diagnosis and treatment to customized rehabilitation plans, we specialize in physical therapy and injury prevention programs for active children and teens. Our team is composed of pediatric orthopedic surgeons, sports medicine specialists, physician assistants, certified athletic trainers and pediatric sports medicine physical therapists.