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Dance Injuries and Prevention: The Road to Safe Ballet Training and a Long Career

Robert Fulton - Oct. 6, 2023, 11:55 p.m.

Ballet is an exquisite blend of artistry and athleticism. However, just as with any sport, ballet comes with its own set of risks. Whether you're preparing for ballet auditions, engaged in rigorous ballet training, or working for that lead role in your ballet job, understanding these risks and preventing potential injuries is crucial. By investing in one’s physical well-being, dancers can optimize their ballet training and stand out during ballet auditions.


Most Common Injuries in Ballet

  1. Ankle Sprains: These common injuries often result from overstretching the ankle ligaments.  Dancers experience pain inside and outside their ankle. With severe cases, swelling and bruising may be present.  Preventative care is the best way to deal with these.  Strengthening your ankles and technique and not trying steps beyond your skill level can help.  Additionally, not pushing yourself too hard when you know you’re tired will help reduce the occurrence of these.  


  1. Shin Splints: Common due to dancing on hard surfaces or using incorrect technique. Pain and tenderness are felt along the shin.  With shin splints, the muscle around your shin is disconnecting from the bone.  Strengthening exercises and rest can help reattach it.


  1. Trigger Toe: An inflammation causing pain along the inside of the ankle and under the foot. It's prevalent in dancers who dance en pointe.  Make sure to strengthen your toes and warm them up properly!  Additionally, don’t start pointe work too early.  It is ok to wait until adolescence.


  1. Achilles Tendonitis: Inflammation at the back of the ankle due to overuse, especially in ballet dancers.  Make sure to put your heels down when you jump and to not roll forward in your plies!


  1. Snapping Hip: Causes a snapping sound in the hip joint, a result of muscle or tendon moving over the hip bone.  Strengthen your hip flexors and pelvic floor to help with this.  Try thinking of lifting your leg from underneath.


  1. Cartilage Tears: Particularly meniscus tears around the knees caused by landing jumps incorrectly or twisting the knee.  To prevent these, roll out your IT bands (the muscle on the outside of your leg) and build strength & stability through cross training.


  1. Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (Jumper’s Knee): Arises from kneecap "tracking" incorrectly due to muscle imbalances.  Working with a trainer and properly taking care of tight muscles can help prevent this.


  1. Dancer’s Fracture: A fracture of the 5th metatarsal, the bone connecting the little toe to the midfoot.  Don’t overwork your body.  Know when you need to rest, and know when to stop.  Working on foot strength is key to preventing this.  Theraband exercises work great!


  1. Back Strain and Spasms: Caused by tilting the pelvis downwards and arching the lower back frequently.  Make sure to strengthen your core and roll through your feet on jumps.


  1. For male dancers, back injuries and rotator cuff injuries are prevalent, especially during partnering.  Strength training and proper physical therapy are essential to preventing this.


Prevention Tips for Ballet Dancers

  1. Proper Shoes and Clothing: Especially critical for those targeting high-demand ballet jobs. Ensure feet and joints are adequately supported for your dance style.


  1. Warming Up and Cooling Down: Essential before and after practice. Stretching or rolling out sore muscles using a foam roller can be beneficial.  There are also fancy PT devices such as Normatech boots and Theraguns that can help with the cooldown.


  1. Suitable Dance Flooring: Sprung floors can reduce pressure on a dancer’s knees, legs, and ankles.


  1. Building Strength and Endurance: Cross-training exercises, like Pilates or stability-based yoga, are great for dancers. Cardio exercises, such as running or swimming, help in stamina-building.  Working with a trainer to correct imbalances is important, too.


  1. Using Correct Form: Proper technique prevents unnecessary strain, reducing risks of injuries like shin splints in ballet or back strain.  You may need to take a few steps back at first and break bad habits, but it will be worth it in the long run.


Treating Dance Injuries

Traditionally, the RICE (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate) method was the go-to for soft-tissue injuries. However, new research suggests that a more comprehensive approach, acronymed as PEACE & LOVE, might be more beneficial:


P - Protect: Reduce movement immediately after the injury for a short period.

E - Elevate: Raise the injured area, ideally above heart level.

A - Avoid Anti-Inflammatories: Skip the ice and anti-inflammatory medications for the first 48 hours post-injury to allow natural healing.

C - Compress: Use compression to mitigate swelling, but avoid overly tight wrapping.

E - Educate: Seek information on your injury and consider a physical therapy assessment.

L - Load: Slowly and progressively reintroduce weight-bearing exercises.

O - Optimism: Maintain a positive and confident outlook during recovery.

V - Vascularization: Incorporate pain-free aerobic activities to boost blood flow.

E - Exercise: Engage in exercises to regain strength, mobility, and proprioception.  Do not let your muscles atrophy.  Make sure to keep them mobile, without inducing pain, even while you are still recovering.


Physical therapy, especially when personalized for dancers, plays a crucial role in treating injuries. It addresses the root cause of the injury and provides strategies for prevention.


Additionally, avoid icing throughout the day and instead heat.  Especially for tendonitis, surprisingly, a small amount of inflammation aids in healing. Consequently, avoiding anti-inflammatories for tendon-related injuries is recommended. Engaging in physical therapy (PT) and rolling out throughout the day, rather than only at the end, can be more effective in injury management.  


The Role of Physical Therapy and Nutrition in Ballet Training

PT plays an essential role in both treating and preventing injuries. It helps dancers understand their body better, pinpointing individual areas of weakness to address with specific exercises. In addition to PT, maintaining proper nutrition is pivotal. Dancing for hours demands energy, and only a well-balanced diet can provide the required stamina. This is especially crucial when preparing for intense ballet auditions.



For those eyeing prominent roles in ballet companies, understanding the intricacies of dance injuries is paramount. Investing in prevention and treatment, combined with rigorous ballet training, prepares dancers for challenging ballet auditions and a sustainable career. Always remember: a well-cared-for body is a dancer's most valuable asset. Dance safe, and may your performances always enchant your audience!