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The Informed Parent

Ballet Injuries

by Peter W. Welty, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Jul. 31, 2000

Often parents of young ballet dancers ask their physician about possible injuries connected with the sport. It is true. Ballet can cause damage to the body, just as any physical activity potentially can. It has its own set of injuries, with different types found at each level of expertise. As in other non-contact athletics, improper technique and training can lead to acute and overused harm.

When the child is at the beginning level of ballet, classes are maintained at a fairly low intensity. Emphasis is on basic foot and arm positions, torso control, and proper turnout of the hips, while developing strength, coordination, and grace. The pressure to maintain a proper turnout and to position the feet at 180 degrees can be important for a young dancer, and they, at times, can go to extremes in order to force a proper turnout. Young dancers need to develop turnouts at the hip as well as at the floor, in order to avoid potential technique errors and injury.

In the intermediate and advanced levels, classes are more frequent, there are fewer participants, and girls begin to work en Pointe. From the beginning of ballet training, emphasis is placed on strengthening the foot and leg for Pointe work. Some girls are ready at about age ten; some are never ready. They must have developed proper strength, flexibility, and balance in their lower extremities. The most common injury seen at this level is in the bones of the foot, which can lead to stress fractures. Again, insufficient turnout of the hips can lead to hip, knee and back problems. Lack of foot strength can lead to ankle sprains and tendon injuries. Repeated jumping and landing can cause knee, heel, and tendon problems.

Partnering classes, where boys and girls train together, can lead to other areas of ballet injuries. Boys often have underdeveloped torso strength and technique, so injuries can be seen when partners are dropped, badly timed, or lifted incorrectly.

Eating disorders and delayed menstruation have also been seen in young ballet dancers, as well as in other areas of athletic activity. Scoliosis, or a sideways curvature of the spine, may be more common. These young ballet dancers usually have self-induced injuries. Some of the most specific ones can be averted through a good working relationship with a reputable instructor. Skills can then be developed through proper technique, thus minimizing the risk of injury.

With this in mind, the grace, discipline and concentration skills developed by the young ballet dancer are valuable assets in themselves.

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