We talk about sports related injuries often on this blog and with all of the headlines surrounding sports like football and hockey it’s hard not to. But there is another group of athletes whose injuries are just as bad, if not worse, than the hard-hitting linebackers and right wings. Turns out, ballerinas are tougher than you might think.
Ballet is a demanding activity ranked higher than bullfighting and football, according to a study in the Journal of Sports Medicine. Dancers suffer torn Achilles, joint problems, broken bones and a myriad of other medical problems. One injury could be career-ending and dancing is considered high-risk. There’s no real light-duty work, you either dance or you don’t.
Though they might be in “great shape”, ballet dancers put their bodies through extremes. They are on their toes for hours at a time, with their feet pointing out in awkward angles and they often have very weak upper bodies. Many have been taught to smile through the pain.
That’s why ballet companies are focusing on prevention, and mostly why I’m writing about this topic today. (Trust me I don’t have a vested interest in the ballet- my mother can sadly attest to the stories of my younger tomboy self-throwing my tutu in the mud). They realized that rather than wait for something to happen and then pay through the nose for the consequential injuries, they could spend a little more on the front-end to prevent injuries and keep their dancers healthy. Other industries should be taking notes. Even though construction workers or farmers might not need sprung floors or workshops on stretching, they can still adopt industry specific prevention measures that could greatly reduce the number of injuries that occur each year.
Ballet companies are exploring exercises like swimming and weight lifting to help support the bodies of their dancers. They also offer nutrition counseling and “pre-season” conditioning to pinpoint the weak spots in a dancer so they can work to strengthen them before the grueling season starts. Ballet organizations, who often rely on public support and donations, do not have the overflowing resources of an establishment like the NFL to easily provide this entire fleet of services to their dancers. But they are taking on the financial challenge to ensure the safety of their dancers and I think that is a step (plié?) in the right direction.