Orthopedic Surgeons Face Many Challenges with Dancers
Imagine treating a patient with a musculoskeletal problem who can't wear a brace, can't have the joint taped, doesn't go to the doctor until a small problem becomes a big one, and often doesn't have health insurance. Those are the challenges orthopedic surgeons face when treating professional dancers.

In this article, physicians from the University of Southern California (USC) Dance Medicine Center help medical specialists understand the unique plight of dancers. They offer some suggestions to help bridge the gap between dancer and doctor. For example, education of all patients, but especially dancers is a key ingredient to a successful outcome of treatment.

Since dancers can't perform on stage in a bulky knee brace or with the ankle taped inside the toe-shoe, early attention to even minor injuries is a must. Dancers must be taught early on how to prevent injuries but also how to manage them rather than ignore them.

Surgeons need to educate themselves about what dancers really do all day. Watching Dancing With the Stars is a good visual orientation to the grueling, daily training that goes on. It also gives us all an idea of the final outcome during the performances. But learning the lingo (dance terms and vocabulary) is an important part of understanding injuries and offering both management and prevention techniques. To do that means rolling up the sleeves and spending some time at the barre. That's the ballet barre, not tavern!

Screening clinics can also help identify dancers who are at risk for injury. Evaluating dancers while they are still healthy and before an injury occurs can go a long way in keeping the dancers on their toes and dancing. Screening clinics can also be helpful in identifying dancers who may already be suffering an injury. Early intervention may be able to keep it from getting worse.

Overuse and repetitive motions comprise the bulk of the problems leading to dance injuries. The foot and ankle seem to be the number one area of problems. Tendonitis, ankle impingement, shin splints, and stress fractures head up the list of conditions encountered in the dance world. This makes sense when you realize that a dancer routinely puts 300 pounds of stress on the foot -- and that's before doing any moves that require jumping or leaping.

Poor technique and technical errors can often be corrected with coaching and/or some specific exercises. Adding a physical therapist to the team who has been a dancer or who has a special interest in dancers is essential. Most dancers will do anything they can to avoid surgery. And they are no strangers to exercise, so when it comes to doing remedial or rehab exercises, they make willing and compliant patients.

For most professional dancers, dancing isn't just a way of life, it's also a job and a way to support themselves. It's a profession and a career that they love but one that puts them at increased risk for foot and ankle injuries. That includes all types of dancers from hip-hop to ballet. Working together, medical specialists can help healthy dancers stay that way while getting injured dancers back on stage as quickly as possible.
Gina Brockenbrough. Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Surgeons with a Love of the Performing Arts Treat Dancers. In Orthodpedics Today. June 2009. Vol. 29. No. 6. Pp. 48-49.