Specialized Care for Dancers
Wednesday, July 11, 2018

When classical, competition and team dancers get hurt, they are more likely to push through pain than other athletes. Such reluctance to seek help is due to several unique factors, yet all of these challenges are addressed by the health care offered by orthopaedic foot and ankle specialist Nicholas T. Gates, M.D.

Particular Injuries

Ballet dancers are prone to positional and over-use injuries. Os Trigonum Syndrome (The Nutcracker Syndrome) is a common ankle injury caused by flexing the foot downward en pointe, or standing on tiptoes. "Certain dancers will pinch a bone in the back of the ankle repetitively... They are cracking a small piece of bone as a nutcracker would crack a walnut," explains Dr. Gates. This repetitive movement may break the bone.

Dance team athletes and those engaged in competitive cheerleading may also experience positional issues and are at increased risk for ankle sprains and injuries from tumbling and gymnastics.

Dance is sport and art - and getting an injured dancer back to performing can be tricky. Here's why:

  • Competitive pressure to "stay with the dance" translates into a hesitancy to seek help. Immediate access to care during practice and performance is rare except at professional levels.
  • Dancers require freedom of motion. Traditional bracing techniques used to stabilize joints limit movement and may be prohibited in performance due to wardrobe constraints (particularly in ballet).
  • Sports medicine is typically heavy on traditional sports. Dancers may be frustrated by practitioners who lack understanding of their needs

The Solution

Dance medicine is a specialized approach, Dr. Gates says. "I understand the terminology of dance," he explains, as well as its unique culture. He provides appropriate and creative measures to get dancers back on their feet. At times, more aggressive treatment, including arthroscopic surgery and rehabilitative physical therapy or partial bracing, may be considered rather than rest from activity.

Whatever the issue, dancers of all ages are welcome at Commonwealth Orthopaedic Centers. "We are just as interested in dancers as we are in athletes," Dr. Gates says.

Nicholas T. Gates, M.D., is a board-certified foot and ankle orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine speclalist. He serves as team physician for Highlands High School and treats both athletes and nonathletes.