Dance physical therapy Tucson

Is Low Back Pain in Dancers a Major Problem?

In Uncategorized by Seth Peterson, Physical Therapist Oro Valley

How Common is Low Back Pain?

Low back pain is the most common cause of disability worldwide, and the number of people in the United States that report having it in the past month is somewhere near 1 out of 4.  Dancing is a rigorous sport. Male dancers often have to lift females over their heads or in awkward positions, and females often have to contort their spines during some dance positions or lifts. All of this requires vast amounts of training, hard work, and strength. It should be no surprise to see lower back pain in dancers, and certainly they are at a higher risk of having lower back pain…or are they?

Is Low Back Pain More Common in Dancers?

Despite what we would think, a systematic review (where multiple studies are looked at together) from 2019 calls into question some of these assumptions.  In that review of studies, they concluded that the current evidence suggests that low back pain in dancers is about the same as it is in the rest of the population. However, as they note in the review, it is possible that dancers simply don’t report having lower back pain.  If they don’t report having lower back pain, they may not be counted in studies.

What is Spondylolysis?

n our clinic, we commonly see dancers having lower back or hip pain that they’ve developed during the course of their sport.  There seem to be certain patterns that exist. Spondylolysis (a type of bone injury involving a spinal vertebra) occurs more often in athletes than in non-athletes, but it also seems to be more common in sports where extension and twisting occurs, such as dance and gymnastics. This is likely because of the increased force that these motion places on the joints of the vertebrae. 

Tips for Recovering Quickly

Fortunately, this injury can be treated without dangerous medication or unnecessary surgeries. Based on the results that we’ve seen in our clinic, there are a few key recommendations to treating and recovering from these injuries.  

  1. What it may require, just like any injury, is some time away from your sport. 
  2. Understanding how to relieve your pain is critical to feeling more in control.  Typically, but not always, dancers feel better when rounding their spine such as when bringing the knees to their chest or rocking back into child’s pose. If you’re unable to find a pain-relieving posture, a good physical therapist can help you.
  3. If returning to dance is important, you’ll want to understand why the injury occurred in the first place.  Did you try something new?  Increase your practice hours too quickly?  Do something repetitively? Were there other stresses in your life?
  4. Improve “core” strength. The abdominal muscles and gluteal muscles play major roles in controlling some of the forces acting on your spine.  The question is, can they react quickly and have the amount of strength required to protect and control your spine while dancing?  There are other small muscles around the spine that protect your spine from shear force, which can occur during dance. Are these muscles reacting as they should so you can move efficiently during your sport?
  5. Are you getting enough sleep and taking care of yourself? Not sleeping can increase anyone’s chances of developing pain, and long hours at school or in the studio can mean a tired body trying to do too much.

If you or someone you know is struggling from dance-related lower back pain, please share this information with them.  Our goal as a physical therapy clinic is to help the people of Tucson move better and enjoy life to their fullest extent. If you dance, your ability to get back to the sport makes other people happy, and we love that. If you need a keen eye to observe your movement and help guide you back into the studio safely, please reach out through the website or by calling our clinic at 520-389-5311.

Stay strong ~

  1. Hoy D, Bain C, Williams G, et al. A systematic review of the global prevalence of low back pain. Arthritis Rheum. 2012;64:2028-2037. https://doi. org/10.1002/art.34347