As a competitive Irish dancer growing up, I had always been coached to have the perfect foot placement, most pointed toes, and even more so, the perfect turnout. Turnout is “considered to be the most important technical stylistic, and aesthetic characteristic of classical ballet,” and subsequent forms artistic dance and gymnastics. Perfect turnout is defined as 180 degrees at the foot placement. With this high pressure and demand from coaches on young athletes to achieve this perfection, compensatory patterns often develop. If not corrected early on, or even addressed through technique, hip, knee and low back issues arise. As a result, these patients frequent our clinics with often a multitude of impairments.
Research has dived deeper into injury prevention of the low back, hip, knee and foot that commonly occur with dancers and other aesthetic-based athletes.
Here are the facts:
One of the most common cited risk factors for injuries in dancers is misaligned or poorly controlled turnout
To achieve perfect turnout, dancers compensate by one of three factors:
Low back extension
Forced rotation at the lower leg
Rolling on to the inside of the foot to make the foot appear turned out
For every 1% increase of compensated turnout, there is a 9% increase of sustaining 2 to 2+ injuries
Due to the dynamic movement patterns in dance, turnout should be assessed in several dance positions in order to truly analyze injury risk, notably with ballet dancers and other aesthetic based sports. Practioners should address hip, knee and foot/ankle mobility and strength in order to determine where an athlete's imbalance may be coming from in order to develop proper training and corrections to prevent injury. With competing at the regional, national and world championship levels in Irish dance, I was coached and critiqued consistently on how my feet needed to remain turned out in each jump, turn and technical segment. However, reflecting back following my Physical Therapy education and Sports Residency, I saw that I had never been trained or educated on how to properly achieve this desired form through a proper strength or technique program. As a result, I found myself categorized with the dancers in this study – hip and low back pain, in addition to bilateral 5th metatarsal fractures, all within a span of several years. As a PT, I have a strong desire to assist young athletes so they may continue to dance to their highest potential, safely, and for long as they desire—I've personally felt the consequences that can occur!
If you have a child who plays sports and is very athletic, bring them into Physical Dimensions. We offer kids physical therapy that will pay off in the long run.
Dr. Lauren Hoppa is a physical therapist at Physical Dimensions.