Injuries in Irish Dance
Updated: Apr 12, 2020
Hello, Target Training Family! I had the pleasure of meeting many of you this past weekend at the Lavin-Cassidy Feis in Wisconsin! For those of you I did not meet, I am Ashley Dunne, PT, DPT, CAFS. I grew up as an Irish Dancer and became a Doctor of Physical Therapy in 2011. I was motivated to become a physical therapist due to my own career-ending injury in Irish Dance. I strongly believe had I received care from a medical professional familiar with Irish Dance techniques and culture that I may have had a different outcome. In January of this year, I saw an article circulating which implied that Irish Dancers may be more at risk for injury and pain than any other form of dancer; i.e. modern, tap, jazz, ballet, etc. That article led me to ask: What are the most common injury types for Irish Dancers? What body parts are most commonly injured in Irish Dance? How are most of these Irish Dance injuries treated? Irish Dance has unique demands placed on the body that may not be present in other forms of dance, which may explain the increased incidence of injury. For example, Irish Dancers remain high on their toes in hard and soft shoe dances, similar to that of en pointe ballet dancers. However, Irish Dancers do not have a toe box for structured support in the soft shoe, which means the foot is less stable, and more prone to injury. Another contrasting technique is that Irish Dancers often land in locked leg positions, as opposed to a more joint-friendly position like the ballet plié. What are the most common injury types for Irish Dancers? The most common injuries are typically categorized as overuse or acute. Overuse injuries are those that occur over a period of time, and may not be noticed right away. The most common overuse injuries can include diagnoses such as tendonitis, tendinopathy, or stress fractures. Acute injuries are those that occur quickly, either due to a fall, landing awkwardly on the foot, or some other accidental incidence in which pain or injury is immediate. The most common acute injuries can include diagnoses such as ankle sprains, avulsion fractures, or patellar dislocation.
Most of the Irish Dance injuries I have seen in my own personal experience as a physical therapist are: Sever’s Disease, stress fractures, Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, and ankle sprains. Most commonly, the patients I see with such diagnoses are between the ages of 9 and 18. Sometimes growth spurts can play a factor in injuries as the tendons, muscles, and bones sometimes have trouble keeping up with the demands placed on the body during Irish Dance (as is often the case with Sever’s Disease).
What body parts are most commonly injured in Irish Dance? Across the studies I have read, and in my own personal experience, the foot and ankle are the most common sites of injury for an Irish Dancer. Other common areas of injury include the knee, hip, and back. How are most of these Irish Dance injuries treated? Most commonly, physical therapy and home exercises are prescribed as treatment. Other treatment options include periods of immobilization (such as use of a cast/boot), orthotics, medication, or surgery. Research into other forms of dance has shown that dancers commonly continue to train and perform, even when in pain. This can lead to worsening of an injury which will impact recovery time and dance performance. It is important to pay attention to your body and know the difference between muscle soreness and pain. Pain is the body’s warning sign that something is not quite right, and may require the attention of a medical professional. Recovery time can vary based on the injury, but it is imperative that treatment is started sooner than later so recovery time can occur at a quicker rate. It is important to find a healthcare provider that is familiar with Irish Dance, as this will aid in the overall recovery process. I have seen many students immobilized in a boot for 4-6 weeks, only to be sent directly back to dance class by their doctors. In my opinion, this is a huge No-No. During that immobilization period, the immobilized body part loses strength. If a foot is immobilized for 4-6 weeks and then the dancer goes directly back into jumping and performing steps high on their toes, the likelihood of re-injury is high. I always recommend physical therapy, or at the least an exercise program, after any period of immobilization before returning to dance at full capacity. In future posts I will explain some factors which may be contributing to injuries, how we can prevent injuries, and what we do when we suspect an injury. My goal will be to help inform you of warning signs, common injuries, prevention strategies, and many more topics to come!
Suspect you have an injury? Ashley is available at Impact Physical Therapy in Oak Lawn, Illinois. All you need to do is call and schedule an injury screen, and we can take it from there. If you do not live near the Oak Lawn area, but would still like some advice on what type of healthcare provider to seek, or any other physical therapy related questions, email Ashley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Clinic Phone: 708-581-4810 www.Impactphysialtherapy.com
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Resources: Cahalan R, O’Sullivan K, et al. Injury in Professional Irish Dancers. J Dance Med Sci. 2013; 17(4): 150-158. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24565330. McGuinness D and Doody C. The Injuries of Competitive Irish Dancers. J Dance Med Sci. 2006; 10(1&2): 35-39. Stein C, Tyson K, Johnson VM, et al. Injuries in Irish Dance. J Dance Med Sci. 2013; 17(4):159-164. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24565331.