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Dance Injury Recovery & Compensating Muscle Groups

Dancers, like any other athletes, are prone to injuries. Injury prevention is often challenging because all sports involve repetitive motion on joints with various muscles. Enough repetitions will eventually lead to a breakdown of the body in that area.

Although prevention is a challenge, recovery from injuries doesn’t have to be. With the right treatment, a dancer can recover quickly from a dance injury. The injury may even provide some insight into what body areas are not being used optimally.

Inadequate Treatment of Related Muscle Groups

What often leads to longer-then-wanted recovery times is inadequate treatment. It’s important to understand that when there is a breakdown in a given area of the body, that area is NOT the only part that has failed to meet the demands placed upon it. It's just the one in the most distress.

Your body moves as a unit, so while you are executing a movement that seemingly involves one set of muscles, other muscle groups also engage to allow the body to execute the desired movement.

For example, while performing a movement pattern like a passé relevé, you may develop pain in:

  • the back of your ankles
  • your low back
  • or in your knee

…and this may have nothing at all to do with your ankle joint, your low back or your knee.

Often times, this kind of pain will be due to weak pelvic girdle muscles that don’t allow a stable pelvis when rotating, leading to increased load on the structures around the ankle joint, knee and in your low back. All leading to pain in places that are not the source of the problem.


ballet dance injury

Photo credit: Denise Fokker

Addressing Pain At Its Source

So now something hurts. You're coached to correct your technique. But if an area is not functioning well or is weak, regardless of how hard you try to correct technique, your body won’t function optimally. You’ll develop a compensated movement pattern and your body can only compensate for so long.

Traditionally care is focused on the area where pain arises. Although this can help in relieving the symptoms in the short term, without addressing the loss of optimal function in related areas, eventually the injury will re-occur or lead to injury elsewhere.

Resolving Compensating Habits

If you believe you might be compensating to protect a non-optimally functioning muscle group, it’s important to get that sorted out as quickly as possible. The longer you build a compensating habit, the harder it is to correct and it becomes more likely that you’ll hurt yourself.

Work with a professional who specializes in dealing with athletes and whose attention is on the whole body. Someone who distinguishes all contributing areas of a movement pattern and works to optimize function of all the components which work together. Addressing all the contributing areas will provide a speedier recovery, and also a recovery that will lead to long term healing.

dr. z 

Dr. Z.

Dr. Mahmoud Zaerian is one of the head therapist for Gymnastics Canada and works with Olympic athletes. He is an instructor at McMaster University in the Contemporary Medical Acupuncture Program. He is a partner at Focus Integrative Therapy in Toronto, Canada.

If you have concerns about dance injuries, you can contact Dr. Z right here.

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