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April 23rd, 2009
10:24 AM ET

How can I avoid injury during my dancing workouts?

As a new feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers’ questions. Here’s a question for Dr. Gupta.

From Suzy, Raleigh North Carolina

“Dr. Gupta, I saw you on “Dancing with the Stars” this week and it was great! I started dancing about three months ago and have lost about 10 pounds. I am having fun on the program but do worry about getting injured! What can I do to lower my risk?”

Answer:

Hi Suzy, thanks for writing in. It’s great to hear you started dancing as a way to get fit. It’s a great way to burn calories without it feeling like a chore. The key for anyone looking to get in shape is to find a fitness routine you enjoy! You’ll stick with it longer and may even inspire a friend or two to join you.

Many dancers say they feel longer and leaner from just a few months of classes. Exercises like dancing, or even Pilates for example, impact the density of your muscle versus the size of the muscle. The muscle fibers are engaged differently from the way they would be in a person lifting weights. It is a great body-shaping activity, keeping the core engaged the entire time and toning and strengthening your muscles.

Of course dancing burns a lot of calories too! Fast-paced dancing (swing, ballroom, or party dancing) can burn about 360 calories per hour. Slow-paced dancing (slow ballroom or a mambo) can burn about 240 calories per hour for the average person.

But for any fan of the hit TV show, “Dancing with the Stars,”you are well aware of the injuries that can develop. Just this season, five contestants have been hurt. Nancy O’Dell had a torn meniscus; Jewel suffered a leg fracture to name a couple. Their injuries are typical – majority of dancing injures develop in the lower extremities: hip, knee, leg, ankle, foot.

To avoid injury, be careful of overuse. Overuse injuries, the most common seen among dancers, occur when a person consistently does the same movement over and over again. The muscles begin to tire, bone begins to weaken, and an injury occurs.

Studies show that during a 90-minute organized dance class, a person lands on the same leg about 200 times! Each impact is about 10 times your body weight. Imagine doing that every night? Overtime, your muscles will break down and an overuse injury will result.

So let your body rest after dancing (or any other high-intensity workout) by spacing out your workouts. For example: Avoid doing two days in a row of the same activity. Remember, it’s the repetitive motions that often cause overuse injuries. And remember that a good workout makes you alert, energizes you for the day ahead. If you are feeling sluggish, you are most likely not getting enough sleep. Sleep deprivation impacts your reaction times and overall performance, which could lead to injuries as well.

The best bet for someone looking to start dance-for-fitness regime (and avoid injury) is to cross train versus solely dancing. By making dancing ONE of the activities you do to stay in shape – not the only one – you will have fun, tone up and avoid sitting on the sidelines. Keep up the great work, Suzy!


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soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Sara

    Thank you for answering this question! I've been learning ballet as an alternate form of toning exercise for about 3 years now and the change in my endurance, balance and coordination, and muscle shape has improved drastically.
    One more tip for dancers, and this is hysterical, but leg warmers really help keep muscles warm during practice. I used to get awful cramps in my ankles and the muscles there were usually pretty stiff until I started wearing leg warmers..then they felt looser and stayed warm. Maybe it's mental but I think it helps.

    April 23, 2009 at 11:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. LA

    Page 1 of 5http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2009/04/24/health-flu-mexico090424.html
    WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl says most of the
    cases of flu-like symptoms in Mexico have been reported among healthy adults.
    (CBC)
    The World Health Organization expressed "heightened concern" on Friday over
    more than 800 "influenza-like" cases reported in Mexico, after seven cases of a
    severe respiratory illness were confirmed in two U.S. border states.
    WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl told CBC News on Friday that health officials
    are dealing with three separate events in Mexico, with most of the 828 cases in
    and around the capital, Mexico City.
    At least 24 cases have been reported in the central region, while four have been
    reported in the north. The mystery illness has led to at least 20 deaths in the
    country.
    Most of the cases have occurred in healthy young adults, Hartl said.
    "Because these cases are not happening in the very old or the very young, which
    is normal with seasonal influenza, this is an unusual event and a cause for
    heightened concern," Hartl said in an interview from WHO headquarters in

    April 24, 2009 at 08:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Ana Mejia

    You Are ROCK!!! Thank you for all of your advice, and I will try harder to stop smoking. It is so hard but I know is not good for my HEART or my hair and my skin ; ) and I will try to eat healthy to pump up my energy, and as soon as it start warming up I will try to exercise more, I have been hibernating 4 ever, I can't wait for the summer. And I will keep up the PMA (possitive mental attitude) not my PMS ha ha ha the power of the brain is what makes the difference and it is all about the attitude isn't?

    April 24, 2009 at 08:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Pamela

    I'm curious, would the same apply for people that practice martial arts? I've taken up karate and I've been at it for the past 6 months. Yeah, there's a joke in here somewhere about "Karate? Well of course you're gonna get injured, you're hitting each other!" but I've been less bothered by the occasional sparring bruise than I've been by some strain on my knees. My classes are spaced out every other day, which gives me time to recuperate if I've had a particularly hard go. But now I just want to KEEP moving, I have so much energy! Would a trip to the gym for a bit of treadmill time or some weights be out of the question on the alternate days?

    April 30, 2009 at 10:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Teresita Maxey LMBT

    One thing that I think the response neglects is the importance of stretching before and after any aerobic activity. As a licensed massage therapist, certified in Neuromuscular Therapy and Sports Massage. I often come across clients dedicated to working out that are in pain, but believe they are doing everything just right. My first question is always, "How often do you stretch?' , the response, more often than not, is "not often enough". Stretching is essential to maintaining both muscular health and pliability. The more pliable your muscles are the better they respond to strenuous activity and repetitive use and the muscles are less likely to succumb to injury. However, if they do become injured when stretching is part of your workout regiment, your muscles are more likely to recoup faster. I always recommend yoga to my clients because it incorporates both stretching and a work out. For those clients that are not open to yoga I show them stretches that help maximize muscle pliability and health. -The key is to remember that stretching should be done before and after any aerobic activity and a light warm up is essential before stretching.

    April 30, 2009 at 16:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Garrett

    Pamela, having done karate for many years I recommend that leg and core strength should be your focus if you decide to hit the gym. Having said that, I wouldn't sandwich strength training in between your lessons because you will quickly run into the overuse problem mentioned with dancing. I would recommend you to deepen your stances, focus even more on any kicking exercises, and work on stretching and limbering your ankles and knees.

    If you do decide to work out in the gym, one day focused on your legs and another for your core or any other body parts you may wish to strengthen would probably be adequate. Be careful you're not pushing yourself too hard as leg injuries are lingering and debilitating. If your legs feel sore or your energy level is low, its time to take it easy for a bit.

    May 8, 2009 at 02:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Bruce A Jones

    Dear Dr. Gupta:

    I think you missed one key component to any exercise regime – stretching. I remember from my high school athletics, that we always took a good fifteen minutes to stretch before the actual workout. I cannot remember if we stretched after practice, but I think it would be recommended. I think I am correct in advising that one should warm-up before a workout and warm-down after with a few stretching exercises. Cheers

    May 20, 2009 at 13:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Alia

    Does belly dancing workouts really work?
    I really want a fun work out and i was told Power Plate belly dancing.anyone belly dance? can you recommend any dvds?

    February 11, 2010 at 11:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Logan Robinson

    we often need leg warmers during the cold winter months in our place. we prefer cotton or wool*~~

    July 25, 2010 at 14:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Bethany Bennett

    when i travel in Alaska, i always use leg warmers to get more comfortable"*"

    September 10, 2010 at 02:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Thermoplastic Elastomers :

    leg warmers will be more useful in the coming winter months, i gotta grab one on the local store~:.

    October 24, 2010 at 07:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Formica Sheets

    i often use leg warmers during the cold months and specially this DEcember '"

    December 14, 2010 at 13:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. eXp Realty Recruiting

    Great post, Your post is an excellent example of why I keep coming back to read your excellent quality commentary....

    July 26, 2011 at 21:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Chuck Rio

    I agree with your post, the fact's are clear. Keep up the great posts!

    September 5, 2011 at 11:54 | Report abuse | Reply
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    October 26, 2011 at 03:26 | Report abuse | Reply
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    August 3, 2016 at 12:42 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.