Ballet dancers jump beautifully and bend their knees constantly in order to perform their graceful dances. You might be thinking that all of the pressure would be hard on their knees.
Ballet can be hard on your knees, but with proper technique and alignment injury and long-term effects can be decreased or avoided altogether.
There are many things to keep in mind when considering ballet dancers’ knees. Injury prevention and recovery as well as technique, alignment, and other conditions are key to understanding the effects that ballet can have on dancers’ knees.
Is Ballet Bad For Your Knees?
Ballet involves a lot of jumping and bending of the knees. Many moves involve plies, which is the bending of the knees. This is the foundation of a large portion of moves done in ballet such as jumps, most turns, and many others.
A lot of stress is put on the knees in dance. This means that it can wear on your knees over time and cause injury or just general fatigue. However, proper alignment and technique helps with this issue tremendously. This helps prevent injury and reduce the amount of general wear and tear.
Unfortunately, even perfect alignment and technique doesn’t entirely alleviate the problem. An enormous amount of pressure is still being put on a dancer’s knees. This can lead to some long term problems especially as they age.
Aging bodies lead to joint issues. Knee issues are common as people get older. Athletes, dancers included, often see more issues earlier in life. It is important to remember that ballet isn’t any more or less hard on knees than any sport that involves bending.
Overall, ballet can be hard on your knees, but injuries can be reduced with good alignment and proper technique. Knee issues can’t always be avoided altogether, as with any physical career. Ballet isn’t ‘bad’ for your knees, it just puts more pressure on them than you would in daily life.
Preventing Knee Injuries
Some common knee injuries from dancing include patellofemoral syndrome and patellar tendonitis. Both of these are directly correlated to improper alignment. These knee injuries and others are often caused by misalignment during turnout, sickling or rolling inwards with the feet, or specific muscle weakness.
Preventing knee injuries in ballet dancers starts with technique. Alignment is only as good as the technique that a dancer has. Young dancers need to be taught how to align their knees over their toes and keep their weight distributed properly on their feet. This reduces the stress placed on the knee.
Strength is another key component in preventing knee injuries in dancers. Ballet strengthens many muscles in the body, but dancers always have a few weak points. These can lead to compensation and if left unaddressed, it can leave a dancer vulnerable to injury.
Core strength plays a role in knee health as well. Keeping abdominal muscles strong and engaged while dancing can relieve some of the pressure put on the knees.
Lastly, mobility can play a role in knee injuries and the overall well-being of a dancer’s knees and other joints. Ballet requires quite a bit of knee mobility. Without enough knee mobility, dancers could start pushing too far, leaving them susceptible to injury.
Physical therapy is one way to ensure that muscles are strengthened properly and mobility is adequate. Some physical therapists that specialize in dancers can help with technique issues as well.
Regular visits to a physical therapist, especially at a pre-professional or professional level, can be hugely beneficial to preventing and treating knee injuries. Personal stretching and conditioning is helpful as well. Finally, making sure to always warm up before dancing is crucial to preventing injuries of any kind.
Recovering from Knee Injuries
Sometimes knee injuries can’t be avoided. Injuries can be very difficult to work through as a dancer. They can pause, sometimes end, a career, halt progress in training, and set dancers back. Taking time off to recover can mean that some technique and strength is lost.
Taking time to recover properly is crucial if a dancer wants to return to ballet and have a long career ahead of them. It is important to work closely with a doctor and/or physical therapist to establish a plan for recovering and getting strength back.
During recovery, ballet dancers can continue to do their own stretching and conditioning as much as they can to do safely. There are many different exercises to keep strength and technique up during periods of recovery. This can help ease them back into dancing as they are feeling better.
Many dancers will find that they have recurring issues with their knee after an injury. These can be managed with a physical therapist and paying close attention to their previously injured knee. Catching a second injury before it happens can save a dancer from another long recovery period.
Knee Pain in Professional Ballet Dancers
Knee pain is an unfortunate reality in many dancers’ lives, especially those who dance professionally. Around 33% of dancers experience anterior (front) knee pain at some point in their career.
Overuse injuries are also incredibly common in dancers. The top 5 leading overuse injuries among dancers include 3 different knee injuries.
Professional ballet dancers are especially hard on their knees. They dance all day almost every day. Even with regular physical therapy, this amount of pressure wears down the knees. Unfortunately, many professional dancers have knee pain on a regular basis.
Many dancers retire due to pain or injury. Most retired dancers experience pain on a regular basis. A significant proportion of this pain is knee-related along with back, hip, and ankle pain.
A study done in the United Kingdom looked into musculoskeletal health in retired ballet dancers. They found that 36% of dancers had retired because of injuries. Knee pain was among the top causes of injury related retirements. Furthermore, over 90% said they experience musculoskeletal pain in retirement.
Things to Keep in Mind
Ballet is hard on your knees, but that doesn’t have to be a defining factor in your training and career. Here are some things to keep in mind about ballet and knee health:
- Focus on technique and proper alignment. Misalignment is one of the leading causes of knee injuries in dancers. Ensuring that you are using good technique will keep you much less vulnerable to significant injury.
- Keeping your core and leg muscles strong is an important component of preventing injury. Make sure to condition and work on mobility regularly. Never forget to warm up before dancing as well.
- Physical therapy can help keep you safer and manage pain and injury better. Regular visits are especially beneficial when you are dancing professionally or training at a high level.
- In the case of a knee injury, proper recovery is crucial. Work closely with your physical therapist and/or doctor in order to ensure that you are on the right path. Keep your strength and flexibility up as much as you can during recovery.
- Even with proper care, knee pain is still common among dancers, especially professionals and retired dancers. Managing pain well can be just as important as preventing it in the first place.
Ballet is good for your body, even if it is a little rough on your knees. Don’t let knee pain or fear of injury stop you from enjoying ballet, whether it’s for your enjoyment or career. Taking steps to prevent injury is helpful and managing the pain if it comes is sometimes all you can do.
Ballet is often fulfilling, enjoyable, and beautiful to watch. Just like any other sport or physical career, pain and injury sometimes comes with the territory. Don’t let it stop you from dancing.