Watch Out Dance Moms, There’s Been An Increase In Dance-Related Injuries For Children

dance momsMy freshman year of high school, dancing on a competitive team got to be so intense that I took frequent baths in cold water and Epsom salts. My joints were so sore that I had to be tested for rheumatoid arthritis. I battered my feet to the point that my toenails fell off and little tears leaked from my eyes every time I took a step. Dancing was an incredible hobby, but it was by no means painless.

And frighteningly enough, those minor complaints might be nothing compared to young dancers today, who are hitting the doctor’s office more than ever thanks to dance-related injuries. A new study looked at young dancers who went to the emergency room for injuries sustained during practice or competition. They found that from 1991 to 2007, these ER visits increased by 37%.

The most common injuries were sprains and falling was the most likely cause of the problem, to the shock of absolutely zero people who have ever spent time in a dance studio. Doctors recommend that young dancers stay hydrated, stretch, warm-up, and cool down to help avoid injuries. (A few more no-brainers.)

As to the cause of the increase in dance-related boo-boos for young ones, it’s hardly coincidental to point out the increased popularity of competitive dance as an extra-curricular activity. A young ballerina today could compete in a new regional or national competition each and every month if she were so inclined.

One has to only look at dance competition shows like “So You Think You Can Dance,” where injuries abound in young dancers that are trying to push themselves as far as they can, to wonder how so much accidents could be taking place. (There were 8,477 emergency room visits in 2007. That’s not even including people who waited and treated their sprains at a family physician during normal business hours.)

Even worse, you could watch a show like “Dance Moms,” where children are berated and criticized by overly harsh instructors and obsessive parents. None of those people seem particularly concerned about the health of the little girls who are providing them with their 15 minutes of fame. They push those children, whose bodies are still developing, so hard that’s a small wonder they all haven’t been injured yet.

This recent study stopped in 2007. I have a feeling that if it continued, the last five years might look even worse for young kids trying to make it in the dance world.

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  • Boots

    I too was a performance & competition dancer. My feet have never forgiven me. Even today, I have chronic foot pain from the countless stress fractures incurred over 15 years of hard slog. If my daughter wants to dance, great! But I’ll show her my feet first just in case :)

    • LindsayCross

      Oh I’m with you. My daughter says I have “Gargoyle Toes.”

  • K.

    I wasn’t the dancer in the family; my sister was, but the interesting thing is that she went to a teacher and a studio that was very conservative when it came to advancing ballerinas–they were careful about when she went on (en?) point(e) (sp?–sorry), made sure she was physically ready for it and that she understood the commitment she would have to make to practice and training in order to continue; they never berated dancers for their weight or appearance and instead stressed the importance of fueling the body. I remember that when my sister got injured while training for some competition (I’m a little hazy on the details–I was in college by this time), they made it clear that her goal was to get better NOT to try and compete. At the time she felt it was a complete disaster, but since then she said it was because her teacher continually reminded her that the competition was nothing compared to a lifetime with functional knees, feet, and hips.

    Granted, my sister had some talent, but she did not have enough to contemplate a career in dance and she didn’t grow up to be one, so maybe it’d be different for young dancers that have that goal. Nevertheless, it does sadden me to hear from others that her experience seems to be the exception and maybe not the rule?

    • K.

      sorry–I meant to say that my sister “only got through the injury because her teacher continually reminded her…”

  • Daisy

    Unbelievable. Safety should be any dance teacher’s #1 priority. My ballet teacher’s been teaching for almost 30 years and has only ever had one injury in her class ever, out of hundreds of girls dancing hundreds of hours each. Maybe that’s because her classes are small and not so competitive, but maybe that is the point. Pretty much every week she talks about safety and how to take care of your body and how to know when to stop doing something if you are not comfortable with it or might get hurt. I know accidents happen, but if they are happening on the scale in the article, then they aren’t accidents anymore; they’re negligence. Hint: an injured dancer won’t be doing much dancing period, never mind winning competitions.

  • Justme

    I think something important to be discussed is the amount of time young girls are practicing their sport (whether it is volleyball, basketball, soccer, dance or cheer). Compared to when I played competitive sports in school fifteen years ago and with what is now available to kids these days….girls can be actively involved in a highly competitive sport YEAR ROUND. Their bodies MUST have a break – they cannot push themselves for twelve months and expect to not have any injuries or issues.

    I read a great book along these same lines called Warrior Girls which brings to attention the high rate at which girls are seeming to tear their ACLs as opposed to boys of the same age. Some of it dealt with the female body and how we are built just a little differently, but also at the culture surrounding sports and teenage girls in today’s society. There’s this mentality that if you work longer and harder than your opponent, you will reap the rewards and get that championship, starting spot on Varsity or even a college scholarship. But in reality, oftentimes all time spent working out is actually wearing down the body and making it MORE difficult for a girl to become a lifelong athlete.

    A bit of a tangent, but I also think there are parallels between what I see in the gym with my athletes and injuries and what is going on in the world of (extremely) competitive dance and cheer.

    • Shea

      That book sounds interesting! I played soccer for many years growing up, and my knees still feel the effects of it today, when I haven’t stepped on a soccer field for at least 15 years. Bad knees run in my family, but I don’t remember that fact ever being brought up to me. I’d had two concussions before the age of 14 and I injured my left knee rather badly when was about 11. I should probably have taken up a lower-impact sport at that point, but I continued to play quite competitively until I was in my teens. Probably not the best idea, either on my part or on my parents’, and my parents weren’t even the crazy competitive sports types. They just thought sports were good for my development. Perhaps ironically!

    • Justme

      You should definitely check it out – talks about how girls sports has changed since Title IX and the mentality that has led to so many injuries in girls. Puts a lot of things into perspective.

    • C.J.

      I think you are absolutely right. My daughters are both competitive dancers. We are Canadian but all the competitions we go to are in the US because we live in a border city. My 10 year old dances 14 hours per week and my 7 year old 12 hours. They only have to be there for 11 hours for the older one and 9 hours for the little one but they choose to take the optional classes that are offered for their age groups. This includes their regular classes, enrichment classes and competitive classes. This is over three days. I thought this was a lot until I found out that many of the kids they compete against practice for hours every day. Sometimes even being home schooled so they can practice more. Our team does just as well, scores just as high and wins just as many awards as the teams that practice every day. It is no wonder kids are getting more injuries. Little bodies shouldn’t be training that much. We also have a break in the summer for close to a month. There are some extra classes they can choose to do during the break but they are not mandatory and they are not as long as their regular classes. They also get a 2 week break at Christmas and 1 week in March. I don’t think all that extra practice really even helps the kids skill level since we do just as well with less practice and more breaks.