Dancers, Don’t Let These Common Injuries Steal the Stage

The demands of being a dancer leave little time for rest. To maintain strength and flexibility, hours of strenuous, repetitive practice are required daily, or even several times a day. We know that practice makes perfect, but it can also increase the odds of overuse and injury.Problems with the feet, knees and hips often take center stage. However, the hands, wrists, and elbows are susceptible to their own kind of show-stopping damage including:

● Strains, ● Sprains, ● and Fractures

Prompt and proper treatment can minimize recovery time and reduce the risk of reinjury. Let’s look at four upper extremity problems experienced by dancers and what to do if they happen to you.

#1: Interphalangeal Joint Sprain

The most common injury to the hand occurs at the proximal interphalangeal (PIP) joint, which is the finger joint nearest the knuckle.

When the finger is bent forcibly back, as with a hard fall, the connecting ligaments can stretch or partially tear. Depending on the extent of the injury, the pain may be mild enough that the dancer opts to work through it.

The problem with this initially understandable response becomes evident when simple movements, such as putting a hand through a sleeve or into a pocket, cause the finger to catch, or snag, further damaging the joint.

With each subsequent catch, pain and dysfunction worsen until medical care is no longer avoidable. The preferable response to even mild finger injuries is to seek medical attention early on. With proper splinting and other conservative interventions, the risk of additional PIP damage may be minimized and recovery time decreased. Best bet? Get it checked!

#2: Metacarpophalangeal Joint Injury

The knuckle, or metacarpophalangeal joints are located where the long hand bones connect to the fingers.

This area is prone to sprain, dislocation, or fracture due to hyperextension or a hard blow to the hand. In dancers, the injury typically results from a fall. Similar to finger injuries, the amount of pain experienced may be subtle or severe.

Swelling, bruising and limited movement of the joint often accompany fractures or dislocation. Medical diagnosis and x-ray confirmation are necessary to ensure proper treatment.

Dislocated joints must be reset, which is often accomplished by pulling on the finger, followed by splinting while the joint heals.

Delaying medical care, even for a day or two, makes the dislocated joint harder to reset. Surgery may be required to repair damaged ligaments or fractures in the bone. Best bet? Get it checked!

#3 Carpal Joint Sprain

Further down the hand, just above the metacarpals, lie the carpals, eight small bones arranged in two rows and connected by a network of ligaments.

Articular cartilage—a smooth, slippery substance—covers the sides of the bones allowing them to glide easily against each other. Together, these bones form a complex arrangement of small joints that connect with the radius and ulna bones of the forearm on one end and the metacarpals on the other.

Carpal sprain is another common injury and is typically caused from repetitive overuse of the wrist, resulting in inflammation and pressure on the medial nerve.

Wrist fractures occur when the radial or ulnar bones crack under pressure at the carpal junction. Instability in the wrist should be addressed promptly, as delayed treatment worsens the injury and can eventually lead to degenerative arthritis.

Conservative treatment or arthroscopic surgery may be required to repair the damage. Best bet? Get it checked!

#4 Elbow Sprain

The elbow is not one joint, but three: the ulnohumeral joint, the radiohumeral joint, and the proximal radioulnar joint. These three joints work together to allow flexion, extension, and limited rotation of the arm.

With hyperextension or over-rotation, the ligaments in the elbow, which connect bone to bone, are stretched or twisted to the point of injury; this is known as a sprain. Symptoms include pain, swelling and limited movement.

Treatment begins with ice, elevation, and rest. As the sprain heals, therapeutic exercises may be needed to regain full range of motion. Consultation with an orthopedist is recommended to determine the extent of the injury and the most appropriate treatment. Bottom Line Dancers are prone to injury as the result of excessive practice and other factors, such as poor technique or inadequate conditioning.

Injuries to the hand, wrist, and elbow receive less attention than those to the foot, ankle, knee and hip, but don’t let that stop you from making the right move.

Before you keep on dancing, your best bet is to get that injury checked.

About Dr. Mark E. Pruzansky

Dr. Mark E. Pruzansky, Director of HandSport Surgery Institute, is a seasoned specialist in hand surgery, wrist surgery and microsurgery, sports injuries and arthroscopic and reconstructive surgery of the hand, wrist, elbow and brachial plexus. With more than 20 years of high-level practice and a comprehensive knowledge of the body’s biomechanical linkages, Dr. Pruzansky is able to diagnose patients using a “kinetic-chain approach” that reveals underlying—and often overlooked—issues coming from other parts of the musculo-skeletal system.

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