Knee Injuries In Dancers – Prevention Is Better Than Cure

Knee injuries in dancers are not uncommon, as the knee joint is very complicated and in a way also sensitive to injury, especially amongst both dancers and athletes.
Knees although they seem simple, are one of the most complex joints in the human body.
The knees and knee joints are hot spots for ballet dancers and almost all other athletes.  As there is turnout involved with ballet dancing, this poses extra challenges for this complex confluence of ligaments, cartilage, tendons, bones and muscles.
There are also numerous things that can go wrong with your knees ranging from minor to major. However, using a bit of common sense and preventative measures, you and your knees will be able to go on dancing for a long time to come.
knee injuries in dancers

Why Are There Knee Injuries In Dancers?

A lot of knee problems result in either an uneven balance in muscle strength or weak muscles.  The hamstring and quadriceps muscle group control the knee’s functioning and help the ligaments to give stability and support to the knee joint.
Your alignment in the pelvis, as well as the strength in the pelvic girdle, can also have a direct effect on the functioning and well-being of your knees.
A lot of knee injuries in dancers, especially ballet dancers are due to forcing the feet to turn out without engaging the correct muscles in the hips.
Ballet dancers must not try not to force their turnout beyond their capabilities, by over-rotating at the knees and ankles.  If you over rotate, the lower leg bones (tibia and fibula), these will work against the upper leg bone (femur), and the knee joint takes unnatural strain and trauma, and will be more prone to injuries, especially if force is used while the knee is straightening or even coming down from a jump.
For more information on turnout, click here.

Common Knee Injuries In Dancers

 Here is a short description of some of the things that could go wrong with your knees.

Meniscus Injury

Meniscus injury happens when the c-shaped piece of cartilage that curves within your knee joint gets tears. Your symptoms here will include pain, swelling and the inability to straighten the knee completely.


Tendonitis is an irritation and swelling of one or more of the tendons in the knee.
This happens most commonly in runners, skiers, and cyclists.  The symptoms here include pain in one or both knees, swelling below the knee cap, the inability to straighten the knee completely, and a deepening pain on squatting or climbing stairs.

Torn Ligaments

The knee has four ligaments that connect the femur to the tibia and fibula.  A torn ligament can happen with a bad fall or other severe trauma, and you will probably hear a popping sound.
Other symptoms include immediate pain that worsens on walking or bending, a feeling that the knee will buckle or give in and an inability to bear weight on the knee.  Hyperextended legs are more prone to ligament tears.

Patella-Femoral Syndrome

Patella-Femoral Syndrome is a general term used to describe pain affecting the joint surface between the patella and the femur underneath. Behind the patella is a cartilage lining that provides a smooth gliding surface between the two bones. When the cartilage under the patella softens or wears away, this results in pain and inflammation.

This happens over a period of time, and you will notice pain in class when you do a plie or jump.

Overuse during training and technique or mechanical faults by the dancer can aggravate this condition.

Dancers will need to ice and gell regularly. Also, they should consult a professional here.


Osteoarthritis is the inflammation and degenerative breakdown of the cartilage lining the ends of the bones within a joint.

Healthy cartilage will normally protect the joint, allowing for smooth movement and shock absorption. Without the usual amount of cartilage, the bones rub together, causing pain, swelling, and stiffness.

The most common causes of osteoarthritis in the knees are previous injuries, joint overuse, and aging. It is also suspected that there is a genetic component to the disease. You may have little or no complaints of knee pain until the disease has progressed significantly. With significant arthritis, you will start to notice pain with many activities, including walking, ascending stairs, and even at rest.

Osteoarthritis will need to be confirmed with an X-ray. There is presently no cure for this and it is a degenerative condition.

Try to maintain existing flexibility in the knee joint to help prevent injuries caused by friction. A physician may recommend anti-inflammatory medication to assist with pain relief. A consult with a chiropractor is also helpful to determine if strength deficits or imbalances exist and help to correct them. Severe conditions may require total knee replacement surgery once pain becomes no longer tolerable.

Patellar Malalignment/Dislocation

This looks scary, and I have seen it happen to classmates.

A displaced patella occurs when the kneecap (patella) slips out of its groove on the thigh bone (femur).

Often the kneecap will slip out of its groove momentarily and then relocate. This is known as a patellar subluxation and can happen repeatedly. A patellar dislocation is when the kneecap slips out of its groove and will not relocate. This is a very painful condition and usually, requires a physician to assist with relocation.

This can happen with sudden changes of direction, running or jumping.

Seek immediate help from a professional, as this condition is very painful. The doctor will usually be able to reposition the knee with physical manipulation, but x-rays will be needed to rule out fractures.

If this happens often, the knee may need to be immobilized or placed in a brace for several weeks. You will also need to go to a chiropractor for rehabilitation to restore the strength and range of motion to help prevent reoccurrence.

Severe conditions may require surgery.

Ballet dancers must learn to respect the natural boundaries of their bodies.  Some dancers do have restricted turnout, and work can be done to improve this, but it must never be forced.  Knees usually only get injured with incorrect technique, so careful attention must be made to concentrate on the alignment of your body.
So, as far as possible, follow a sensible dance schedule that doesn’t overtax your body and very importantly your mind in order to avoid knee injuries in dancers.

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