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How to Deal with Dance-Related Knee Pain

Knee pain is, unfortunately, just one of those things that happens when you're a dancer. But how can you be sure that an annoying pinch here or a crunch there isn't something more serious? Dance Spirit turned to Marijeanne Liederbach, PhD, PT, ATC, CSCS—who is also director of the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at NYU Langone, research assistant professor at NYU School of Medicine, and owner of PT Plus in NYC—for a crash course on knee problems.


What It Is

According to Dr. Liederbach, the top five knee problems that plague dancers are patellofemoral pain syndrome (pain or swelling where the kneecap joins the body); meniscus tears (when the two shock-absorbing, wedge-shaped pieces of cartilage between your thighbone and shinbone tear); patellar tendinitis (when the tendon attaching the bottom of your kneecap to the top of your shinbone becomes inflamed); bursitis (inflammation of the bursae, which are fluid-filled sacs cushioning the front of the knee joint); and sprains of the knee ligaments (which are soft tissue structures that protect the knee from potentially injurious forces).

What Causes It

"The knee is the largest joint in the body, and it's subjected to very high forces," Liederbach explains. "Performing a lot of choreo on the floor, landing from jumps, forcing your turnout, even demi-pliés—all of these expose your knees to anywhere from 3 to 12 times your body weight."

How to Deal

When it comes to avoiding knee injuries, Liederbach has one mantra: "Rest isn't bad! In fact, adequate rest between training periods is essential." She stresses the importance of paying attention to your body.

The health of your knees also depends on the strength of your trunk, hips, and ankles, so make sure to give them a little extra love while you cross-train. Liederbach recommends including strengthening moves (like side-lying hip abduction) into your warm-up. "Focusing only on dance-specific conditioning causes you to neglect your body as a whole instrument, and you'll inevitably become weaker in certain areas."

Warm up with side-lying hip abductions (Thinkstock)

Liederbach stresses that it's crucial to consult your doctor if nagging pain doesn't resolve on its own in two to three days. "Don't write things off. Many times, these musculoskeletal knee complaints simmer and then blow up."


A version of this story appeared in the July/August 2018 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Your Aches And Pains Addressed: Knee Problems."

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A Letter from the Editor in Chief

Hi, dance friends. It is a strange time to be a person in the world, and an especially strange time to be a dancer. As the dance community faces the coronavirus crisis, a lot of you are coping with closed studios, canceled performances and competitions, and a general sense of anxiety about how your world will look going forward.

Yes, dancers are super resilient, and there's been a lot of inspiring community-building happening. #LivingRoomDances and Instagram dance parties and virtual ballet classes with the pros are wonderful. Dance can, and should, be a bright spot in the darkness. But that weird, empty feeling you have? It might be grief. The loss of the certainty of daily class, the loss of the promise of that big end-of-year performance—that's real. The dance studio has always been a safe place; it's especially hard not to have that outlet now, when you need it most.

We're here for you. We—and our friends at Dance Magazine, Pointe, Dance Teacher, The Dance Edit, and Dance Business Weekly—are doing our best to document the hurdles facing the dance industry, and to advocate for dancers in need. We're developing more online content that will help you maintain and improve your technique while you're at home, and process the mental and emotional fallout of all this upheaval. (You can keep up with the latest stories here.) And we're still making our print magazine. We have issues planned and shot, full of great dance stories and beautiful photos. We're not going anywhere.

We want to hear from you. Talk to us. Or dance to us. Or both. We won't stop moving, and you shouldn't, either.

Margaret

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