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Physiotherapy in Irish Dance

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Physiotherapy & Irish Dance: Our thoughts on injury prevention

Broken ankle of a person isolated on white background

Our Physiotherapist Leanne Plenge was recently at the Association for Foot and Ankle Physiotherapists Conference on dance in London. One of the speakers was Dr Roisin Cahalan from the University of Limerick speaking on considerations we need to make for Irish dancers. She spoke on this interesting dance speciality with enthusiasm. She told a tale of the change in the profession as a whole since professionalisation in the 1990’s and troupes such as River Dance making it extremely popular both to watch but also to participate in. In comparison to other dances, Irish dance has not been professional for very long at all. Ballet has a much much longer history and therefore this brings with it problems as it develops in terms of the lack of available research in the field.

Roisin is part of a team who are looking into the injury rates and biomechanics underpinning the dance profession. They are hoping to be able to provide as yet unknown data on the unique features of the dance and how medical professionals such as physiotherapists and also the dancers themselves can influence their dance and reduce their injury risk by understanding the problems that may occur. Preparation and injury prevention is of paramount importance to a growing profession and the health of their dancers. This group of researchers have been able to gather information from the large population of professional Irish dancers. This is one of the first times this has been successfully done and it is enabling some interesting data to be gathered.

What types and causes of injuries can happen to Irish dancers?

The large majority of injuries sustained are to the foot and ankle. The main perceived causes of these injuries by the dancer were overuse/fatigue, accidents, previous injury, poor stretching/warm-up and biomechanical factors. The injured dancers also reported higher levels of insufficient sleep, greater anger-hostility levels and more subjective health complaints. These could all be triggers that can and should be monitored and addressed in this dance population alongside their presenting complaint. Potentially ensuring a better and more complete recovery.

The types of injury commonly presenting in Irish dancers was interestingly similar to other dance specialities such as ballet. Problems with the big toe tendons (flexor halucis longus), outer shin tendons (peroneals) and hip muscles (hip flexors) were common. Problems with overload and irritation of the toe joints (metatarsalgia) and ankle sprains were also highly reported injuries.

Why is it important to be aware of the types and causes of injury?

Knowing what injuries may occur more commonly and contributing factors in that dance population that may indicate a higher risk of developing these injuries will allow the therapists and medical professional treating them to focus that treatment  and prevention plan appropriate. This will have the knock on effect of reducing injury rate and improving recovery rates. Support for dancers is essential in allowing the longest and most satisfying of careers in a profession where the body is put under incredible demands.

Written by Leanne Plenge

Chartered Physiotherapist