• Jeanne Marie

Dancing with a concussion? Don't risk it.

Black & While photo taken looking down on a dancer who wearing a short light colored tutu with a black leotard and is bent over slightly holding neck.
Image(s) used under license from Shutterstock.com.

It’s January of a new year and students around the United States are starting to return to school after a month-long winter break. For most dance students this means also returning to the high-level physical activity required of them from their dance programs.

When returning to this level of training, dancers need to pay particular attention to their overall health. Returning to vigorous activity after a break, even if athletes are still relatively active over that break, can present a risk for injury, according to an article by Velocity Sports Performance, an elite sports training and fitness center.

Dancers are no exception and learning about the symptoms and treatment of injuries can be vital for dancer safety. One severe yet overlooked injury within dance communities is the concussion.

Around 1.7 to 3 million sports activity-related concussions occur every year, according to a statistics sheet created by UPMC Sports Medicine.

However, most of the information compiled about sustainment of the injury, symptoms, and treating concussions has focused on high-impact, contact sports such as football and hockey, according to the study Concussions in Dancers and Other Performing Artists.

In the study, 11 dancers out of three thousand and eleven patients who came into a clinic reported concussion symptoms, were diagnosed and treated.

The article, Concussion Knowledge and Behaviors in a Sample of the Dance Community, discusses why the number of dancers reporting injury in that particular study may be so low.

The article references a chart review of the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries, a center in New York City that is part of NYU Langone Health that focuses on the overall wellness of dancers through research, clinical endeavors, and education, according to their Facebook page.

The review showed that dancers were more likely to learn that they sustained a concussion and receive treatment due to being able to easily report their symptoms to an onsite athletic trainer.

However, while the article showed that the prevalence of concussions in dancers can be better understood when onsite athletic trainers are present, it also showed that the presence may contribute to more risky concussion behaviors.

The article explains that dancers who have onsite athletic personnel, while will report concussion symptoms, tend to feel that having the personnel present creates a feeling of safety and therefore will be less adherent to behavior-based treatment and more likely to take risks by participating in activity.

According to the article, the phenomenon is not uncommon.

The article states that a number of studies found that athletes who participate in sports are unwilling to discontinue playing even when diagnosed with a concussion and after the research, studies, and education rules have been put into play.

The article explains that studies have found that this occurs due to internal factors athletes face such as seeming weak, beliefs about what the coach wants the player to do, and letting down peers.

Color photo of teen to young adult boy holding head and looking slightly pained.
Image(s) used under license from Shutterstock.com.

While this is more common in female dancers than male, which is the opposite of the findings in popular sports studies, dancers face a similar pressure in the dance community, according to the report.

So how do dance communities help to encourage dancers to engage in safe behaviors after sustaining a concussion?

One of the first steps is teaching dancers what symptoms of a concussion may look and feel like so dancers can seek out the specialized and individual treatment concussions require, according to a concussion tip sheet created by Dance/USA.

The tip sheet lists a comprehensive outline of these symptoms, which includes signs dancers may overlook such as, feeling sluggish, answering questions slowly, confusion, and not feeling right.

The sheet explains less than 10% of concussions result in a loss of consciousness and even the mildest concussions are a traumatic brain injury that should be handled with great care.

An article by Dance Magazine echo’s this sentiment and gives some first steps for dancers who think they have sustained a concussion such as how important sitting out of class can be, resting from cognitive stimulants such as television, phones, and computers, as well as being monitored after sustaining the injury.

Concussion Knowledge and Behaviors in a Sample of the Dance Community states, “Subjective symptom reporting by the dancer and willingness to adhere to treatment protocols are the cornerstones of effective concussion management. Active participation from the dancer, teacher, or director, as well as the treating clinicians, is necessary for successful concussion management, and thus awareness of current guidelines is critical for the dance community,”.

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