Tango Without Tears
Lack of proper body conditioning and flexibility, as well as improper stretching and overexertion can result in a wide variety of injuries ranging from strains and sprains to joint dislocations and bone fractures.
Preventing and Treating Dance-Related Injuries
With the popularity of television programs such as Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance, more and more people are taking an interest in ballroom dancing and other forms of dance as a form of recreation.
That’s good news, according to St. Luke’s Chair of Orthopedic Surgery, Dave Atkin, M.D. “Dancing is great exercise,” he explains. “An evening of dancing will raise your heart rate, burn calories and tone up your leg and arm muscles. Dancing is good for your heart, your lungs and your mind – not to mention fun. People might not want to go to a gym to work out for two or three hours at a time, but they frequently will dance for that long. And, because it’s fun, they’re likely to do it regularly.”
The downside of this increased interest is that dance and injuries often go hand in hand. Lack of proper body conditioning and flexibility, as well as improper stretching and overexertion can result in a wide variety of injuries ranging from strains and sprains to joint dislocations and bone fractures.
“You don’t want to just get up off the couch and start dancing for several hours,” Atkin says. “Newcomers to dance may be unfamiliar with the limits of their own bodies or those of their dance partners. It’s important to start out slowly and get your body in good condition. There’s nothing better than developing the baseline strength of your legs, knees and ankles with nongravitational exercises such as swimming, biking and walking. Plus, right before you actually begin dancing, you should do some warm-up and stretching exercises.”
Even experienced and professional dancers can sustain injuries caused by high-impact jumping, overextension of muscles and repetitive stress on muscles and ligaments. Those injuries can become chronic or disabling if dancers ignore them and continue to dance through the pain.
“By far, the most common dance injuries are ankle strains and sprains,” notes Atkin, who completed an exclusive two-year fellowship in sports medicine following his five-year residency in orthopedics. “One frequent culprit in ankle strains and sprains is wearing improper shoes. Those spiky high heels may look attractive, but it’s easy to lose your balance in them while spinning or dancing backward.”
A strain is caused by overstretching the muscles. A few days of rest will usually ease the pain of a muscle strain. An ankle sprain is a small tear in a ligament, the connective tissue that links bones together. Even the smallest ligament tear can produce a lot of swelling.
Treatment for a minor ankle sprain generally follows the “R.I.C.E” regimen until the swelling disappears:
- Rest – Avoid putting weight on the injured ankle.
- Ice – Apply an ice pack for 15 minutes at a time, repeating every three or four hours.
- Compression – Use an elastic bandage to wrap the ankle for stability and to reduce swelling. The wrap should be snug, but should not cut off circulation.
- Elevation – Keep the ankle elevated higher than your heart as often as possible to encourage proper blood circulation.
If an injured ankle or knee is still weak, painful or swollen in spite of time and rehabilitation, it is a good idea to consult a doctor.
“It’s important to have a qualified orthopedic specialist evaluate injuries that do not improve,” Atkin advises. “For example, persistent knee pain and swelling may indicate a tear in the meniscus cartilage that acts as the shock absorber for the knee.”
Torn knee cartilage and severe ligament tears might require surgery, which now can be done arthroscopically.
“We make a very small incision and insert a miniature camera that shows a picture of the inside of the joint on a computer monitor,” Atkin explains. “Then we make an additional small incision to insert instruments to repair the problem. The advantage of arthroscopy over traditional open surgery is that the joint does not have to be opened up fully. This causes less trauma to the joint, so recovery is much faster.”
Which means you can get back out on the dance floor sooner.
In addition to his work at St. Luke’s, Atkin also serves as director of Operation Rainbow , a nonprofit organization that provides free medical care to needy patients in countries around the world.