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Sports Med. 1988 Nov;6(5):295-307.

Prevention of hip and knee injuries in ballet dancers.

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  • 1Glen Sather Sports Medicine Clinic, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.


Hip problems form about 10% (7.0 to 14.2%) of most published series of ballet injuries. The abnormally large range of external rotation needed for a perfect turnout is primarily due to soft tissue adaptation, more readily achieved in the young dancer. Insufficient range of motion at the hip throws considerable stress on the other lower limb segments. The snapping hip syndrome is common (43.8% of hip problems), with about one-third associated with pain. A tight iliotibial band may contribute to this, and balanced flexibility requires special attention to abductor stretching. The external clicking hip must be distinguished from the internal clicking hip, which is associated with the joint and psoas tendon. Stress fractures of the hip are easily overlooked and, if undetected, they may progress to a complete fracture. Knee problems account for 14.0 to 20% of complaints, and over 50% of these are peri- or retropatellar problems. This includes synovial plica, medial chondromalacia, lateral patella facet syndrome, subluxing patella and the fat pad syndrome. Specific diagnosis leads to specific treatment and the best chance of cure. Mild hyperextension of the knee may be aesthetically desirable, but excessive range leads to symptoms in the posterior capsule and poor control. Young dancers with a tendency to very lax joint structures should be identified early and protected from overstretching. In the author's series, meniscal lesions did not appear to be as big a problem as reported elsewhere in the literature. Ballerinas appear to have less leg strength than other groups of athletes, having only 77% of the weight-predicted norms. The introduction of strength training for male and female dancers may reduce injuries and improve balance, but it requires an intensive educational programme to dispense with the many myths. There are several references to the development of early arthritis but, while relatively common in the foot, symptomatic arthrosis in ballet dancers' hips and knees is not more prevalent than in the general population. The young age at which serious dance training begins, the long and rigorous hours of practice, the thin ballet slipper, dancing en pointe and unusual dietary regimens may all contribute to injury patterns in varying degrees.

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