When Should My Child See A Doctor for Dance Injuries?

Most injuries in dance don’t happen suddenly. Instead, students often suffer from chronic overuse injuries. Some minor impairments can be treated without visiting a physician. Too often, though, smaller injuries become more severe because proper care is not administered early or because dancers continue self-care despite warning signs that more specialized care may be necessary.

Parents and teachers of children and teens want to know, “What are the warning signs that a dance student should see a doctor?”

1.  Here is what you need to know…

Pain = Cause for Concern

Pain is our body’s way of telling us something is wrong. Even the youngest children (3 or 4 years of age) can tell us where and when something hurts. Unfortunately, sometimes dancers learn very early to overlook or ignore pain. Teachers and parents can create an environment in which students develop a mindset to recognize and respect their body’s warning signals. There is no gain in ignoring pain.

2.  Here is the answer to the question…

If the pain, discomfort, or problem persists beyond 2-4 days, consult your teacher. If the teacher does not see the source of, or cannot correct the problem your child should see a doctor.

 IMAGE A woman sitting holds her knee. Only her legs are shown. IMAGE

Acute Injuries

These are usually obvious because they come about as a result of an incident. Landing wrong from a jump. Falling from a lift. Slipping while crossing the stage. Severe injuries like broken bones obviously need immediate attention and a visit to the doctor. For most common ailments…

  1. First aid suggests the R.I.C.E method (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) for strains, sprains, swelling, etc.
  2. In addition, staying hydrated and eating well promotes healing.
  3. See #2 above

More about treating common dance injuries

Overuse/Chronic injuries

Overuse or chronic injuries are sometimes triggered by an event that is allowed to persist without proper rest or rehabilitation. However, often they are caused or aggravated by other circumstances (this is a great list, adapted from this one about kids in sports):

  • growth spurts
  • imbalance between strength and flexibility
  • inadequate warm-up
  • excessive activity (for example, increased intensity, duration, or frequency of training)
  • improper technique
  • unsuitable floors

Signals of Chronic Pain

Deborah Vogel (thebodyseries.com) offers these four signals of chronic pain, as well as an excellent explanation of  how dance injuries start in small ways, in an article about a hamstring/sciatic injury. I highly recommend you read her words for yourself.

  1. Pain that gets progressively worse during working out.
  2. Pain that comes after you work out and the next day comes back after less working.
  3. Pain that is accompanied by a certain movement (e.g. arabesque).
  4. No real sense of “pain” but a definite restriction of movement.

It is normal to have temporary muscle soreness after a challenging class or when working in a new way. Anything that persists, particularly in the ways mentioned above, should be discussed with a physician or dance/athlete specialist. This should be done sooner, rather than later (see #2 above).

A Note on Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

These are often overused in the dance community. Sometimes a doctor will recommend them and they can help bring down swelling. However, they are misused when taken to “get through a class” or otherwise mask pain (see #1 at the top of this post).


Dancers often re-injure themselves when they return too quickly to activity. Temporary muscle soreness can sometimes improve with a return to class. However, if moving makes it feel worse, the body may need more rehabilitation time and/or medical attention.

After and injury, always ease back into activity. It is better to be safe than sorry. Dancers don’t like to hear this when they are eager to get back or feel pressure to return to class but, remind them that temporary setbacks are just that – temporary, and not worth permanently injuring oneself.


Of course, preventing injury in the first place is ideal. Although sometimes this is not entirely possible there is a lot a parents can do to keep their dance students injury-free.

Find a studio that is committed to safety

  • What is your studio’s philosophy?
  • Is there proper flooring (i.e. – something sprung or with some “give”)?

Find a studio that is committed to quality instruction

  • Do the students spend a reasonable portion of their class warming-up (not stretching but individual body-part and full-body exercises that encourage blood flow)?
  • Are students encouraged to master foundational basics before moving on?
  • Do students receive individual attention and feedback from their teachers?
  • Etc… (see this series for more on quality instruction)

Encourage dancers to stay hydrated

Encourage healthy, balanced nutrition

Some other things you can do

  • Encourage rest and proper sleep habits
  • Encourage a positive outlook
  • Remove the stress and pressure to “work through” or “push on” through injury
  • Try cross-training with other activities (not to load extra onto already tired kids but to promote balance in the body; you might even speak to your child’s teacher or studio owner about alternatives within the studio)

Check Out These Related Articles!!

Learning How to Gauge Injuries Can Prevent You From Being Sidelined

This is an excellent article from Dance Spirit magazine. It offers easy guidelines about when to sit out and when to see a doctor.

Talking to Your Doctor About Injuries

Another one from Dance Spirit, this article lays out exactly what doctor’s need to know from dancers. A dancer’s “normal” may be different than a non-dancer due to the type of training dancers receive. Physicians need to know what you were capable of before your injury. This article has a lot of great information and stresses that dancers should not minimize their pain, as is their tendency.

Breaking Tiny Foot Bones

Stress fracture signs and treatment on Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes Blog.

Nichelle (owner/editor)
Nichelle Suzanne is a writer specializing in dance and online content. She is also a dance instructor with over 20 years experience teaching in dance studios, community programs, and colleges. She began Dance Advantage in 2008, equipped with a passion for movement education and an intuitive sense that a blog could bring dancers together. As a Houston-based dance writer, Nichelle covers dance performance for Dance Source Houston, Arts+Culture Texas, and other publications. She is a leader in social media within the dance community and has presented on blogging for dance organizations, including Dance/USA. Nichelle provides web consulting and writing services for dancers, dance schools and studios, and those beyond the dance world.
Nichelle (owner/editor)
Nichelle (owner/editor)
Nichelle (owner/editor)
Nichelle (owner/editor)

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  1. It seems that this topic cannot be written about enough. Especially this time of year with rehearsals and ballet exams and the high risk of dance injuries. Great article!

    • Yep, ’tis the season!! 🙂

      I appreciate your article on stress fractures, Dianne (see above). Thanks always for adding your voice to the mix. Your contributions are helping dancers take care of their instrument! It’s so important! And, thanks for stopping by.

  2. I would like to know the most common causes of injury in ballet

    • Nicky, the most common causes of injury in dance, period, are inbalance of muscular development (like ballet dancers who do everything in turnout and never anything in parallel), or overuse of a particular muscle group (rehearsing a movement over and over, beyond the point of muscle fatigue), or incorrect alignment (usually starting at the ankle and working its way up).

  3. Thanks so much such a great answer and was also thinking about knee alignment not over the toes

  4. Katarina Hanifan says:

    Great article! It really is important to see a doctor for injuries especially if they get worse. I always had an attitude of wrap it, ice it and push through it. I now have Achilles tendinitis due to not properly resting when I was injured. I’m still dancing but I have definite restriction of my ankle flexibility now and it takes a lot of massage work to even help with pain. Not much I can do now considering it’s chronic but I do say, pay attention to your body. The best thing to do is prevent these things from happening.

  5. i had pain in the glutes muscles (right bum cheek) but it deep inside , i guess it was the muscle but when i walked the whole spine and the right leg hurt and i was limping.. as usually parents dont take it seriously because this happened in the gym not like with my brother from not a high ladder and hurt his ankle plus sliding on ice and hurting his knee… im a dancer and i dont mean ballet im talking about real wild fast latin american carnival dancing… i been out dancing 3 days in a row and didnt stop dancing at all the last of the 3 days was the most wetest dancer there and next day or a day later my right leg hurts but its in the front now not the back like also it leads to the side of the thigh and down when i walk… and jumping wrongly and fast ( new momement) in body combat( kick boxing class) my left knee really hurt and we hasd to lay down on the mats on the knee i cudnt it hurt so bad nd right infrotn of my eyes the knee turnes black and blue- bruise?!! anyways its gone now but the kene hurts i cant really bend and do exercises plus always its clicking… its nufin serious i just need to rest and not exercise and dance… but i cant i have to dont wana be missing outbut 3 weeks passed it stil hurts gd i didnt go out yesterday leting it rest so coul do more next weekend, i damanged the glutes by siting on a tnenies ball pressed right on the bum muscle in pitaes fit class and its new and she said press hard and since i do kundalini yoga i can go through pain as i have a strong will and stamin, but then i did the bum machine and it hurt so bad but sitll i went gym everyday and for like 2 weeks or more i hurt i cudnt even go dancing((( its gone now because i rested for like a week and didnt do 100% like i always do, from a small age ive had bumps on my knees especially on the left on and GP told me not to worry as she had the same.. i dance to the point where my ribs hurt so bad and when im about to faint.. danced on glass too but then its good it wasnt sharp. put shoes on lol but im relly concered about the right leg pain which is in the thigh little thin bone which is near the womb.., how do i know if sumthin is cracked? i wud be scremain of pain right? lol

  6. n jones says:

    it is better to rest as the body takes longer than we think to heal an as dancers we are usually impatient or as you say do not want to get behind.I think strengthening is the answer and look up your muscle group in a good anatomy book .