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Risk Factors and Rate of Injury Among Ballet Dancers

There is limited data on the types of injuries that occur among ballet dancers. Likewise, the number of injuries each year is not widely reported. In this study, physical therapists conducted screening exams on ballet students. Later, they reviewed the records for each dancer. They measured the rate of injuries and compared risk factors between injured and noninjured dancers.

All dancers were between the ages of 12 and 18. They were all students at a preprofessional ballet boarding school. Information was collected on strength, core stability, flexibility, and motion. Posture was also evaluated, making note of foot position, standing leg turnout, and knee hyperextension. Spinal problems such as scoliosis (curvature of the spine) or excess lordosis (swayback) or kyphosis (humpback curve) were noted.

The authors saw monthly and annual trends in injury patterns. These were linked with sudden increases in training. Changes in training occurred at the start of school, right before performances, and during ballet exams. The rate of injury was calculated between 32 and 51 per cent. This is much lower than the 67 to 95 per cent among professional dancers.

There weren't very many differences between the two groups. Dancers who didn't have enough ankle plantar flexion (toe pointing position) were more likely to have an injury. Foot pronation (flatfeet) increased the risk of injury. And more dancers in the injured group had a previous history of low back pain.

The authors did not recommend preseason screening as a way to prevent injuries. This practice has questionable value and requires time, money, and trained staff. More work and study are needed to find an easy, cost-effective injury prevention and management program for ballet dancers.

Jennifer M. Gamboa, DPT, OCS, et al. Injury Patterns in Elite Preprofessional Ballet Dancers and the Utility of Screening Programs to Identify Risk Characteristics. In Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. March 2008. Vol. 38. No. 3. Pp. 126-136.

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