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?”


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!

About this blog

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.