September 4, 2016

Stretching the Limits: Joint Stability in Dancers & Gymnasts

The physical demands placed on dancers and gymnasts are unique from any other type of athlete, as the excessive movement in joints is seen as desirable.
  • Nicole Reynolds photo
    Nicole Reynolds

    Nicole is an experienced physical therapist that specializes in treating orthopedic disorders and a special interest in balance and vertigo dysfunction.

Gymnast doing handstand

The physical demands placed on dancers and gymnasts are unique from any other type of athlete. Like other athletes, the hours of training and practice can make an individual susceptible to many types of overuse injuries, but the great amount of flexibility and movement of the joints that is required is often a more common source of injury. Excessive movement of the joints, also known as hypermobility, is often a sought out potential in dancers and gymnasts.

Hypermobility allows dancers and gymnasts to achieve the extreme positions required of these discipline. If not trained properly, this can lead to joint, tendon, ligamentous and muscular injury. These injuries tend to occur at the foot, ankle, lower leg, hip and low back. Gymnasts also are also especially vulnerable to shoulder injuries because the upper extremity is used as a weight bearing joint.

There are many factors that contribute to the stability of a joint. The capsule and muscles that surround the joint, ligaments and tendons, and the proprioceptive system all contribute to joint stability. The proprioceptive system involves sensory nerves that are embedded in the joint capsules and ligaments that constantly inform our central nervous system of position, movement and speed. The joint capsule, ligaments and tendons are often overstretched in dancers and gymnasts, but both the proprioceptive and muscles surrounding the joint can, and need to be, trained to increase the stability of the joint to prevent injury.

Many schools overlook the training of proprioception and strengthening and instead focus on achieving flexibility and hypermobility of the joints. This is where intervention by a medical professional who understands the unique demands placed on these athletes can be beneficial in training athletes to prevent injury. Your physical therapist is trained in developing a program that will train both the proprioceptive and muscular systems to increase the likelihood of a long career, reducing the time needed to recover from injury.