When we see a Broadway show, go to the ballet, or watch other dance performances, we are so invested in the performance that it is easy to miss the risk that dancers take every time they step out on stage. Professional and amateur dancers alike are placing their bodies under increased stress and strain in order to create the most beautiful line, nail difficult tricks and dance steps, and add to the progression of the story being told on stage with their movement. Some of the more common injuries that come to mind for dancers are foot/ankle pain, knee pain, and low back pain; however, neck pain is another injury that should be considered and taken seriously. Around 7-12% of all dancers will experience a neck injury in their career, with 9% of that group being ballerinas and 27% being modern, jazz, and contemporary performers. This percentage difference is due to the different challenges of each technique and the forces placed on the body of each discipline.
So what puts dancers at risk for a neck injury? Dancers in general are predisposed to thoracic hypomobility and neck pain as a result due to their tendency to be in excess extension (aka “dancer posture”, sometimes defined by constant upright posture, with retracted shoulders). This tendency for excessive extension leads to a loss of the normal curves of the spine and when the natural cervical lordosis is lost, it leads to stiffness and pain in the thoracic region. Often when evaluating neck pain, physical therapists typically notice deficits such as decreased range of motion in the upper back and mid back, hypomobility of spinal segments and ribs at their attachments on the spine, and an increase to any pain in the cervical spine. Other symptoms associated with neck pain that are reported by both dancers and general population could be headaches or shoulder pain due to compensations, which in dancers further limits mobility and movement patterns. Unfortunately, due to the fact that one injury can change a dancers movement, it places them at an even higher risk of injury if they continue to work in pain.
Besides the everyday risks associated with their high-level physical movement, dancers also need to consider a variety of special factors that could cause a neck injury. Listed below are factors that are often out of the performer’s control, but add to the production for the sake of creativity and overall visual appeal of a performance. Some of those factors include:
- Heavy mic packs (large battery back with mic cord and ending in microphone receiver) that are often worn in the mid thoracic region or on the back of the head underneath their wig, which is most often done for female performers.
- Moving big, heavy set pieces (which professional performers are encouraged to do, as they are compensated accordingly for the risk of moving the set piece)
- Costumes, wigs, and head-dresses, especially those that are bulky, tall, or have ornaments (hats, hanging components, etc.)
In conclusion, dancers take a big risk with their body as a whole while performing. Safe performance/rehearsal conditions, good body technique, mechanics, and awareness are crucial to preventing serious injuries for performers. Physical therapists are traditionally a great resource for dancers to utilize in preventing injury, rehabilitating injury, and advocating for safe work conditions.
If you or another performer is interested in learning more about Performing Arts Rehabilitation, schedule an appointment with Dr. Allison Korn, 3DPT’s performing arts specialist, at our Haddonfield Location.