October 2009

Dance Medicine Keeps Athletes on Stage

Nancy Kadel, M.D.
Orthopedic surgeon
Director of the UCSF Dance Medicine Center

While professional dancers are jumping and lifting higher, spinning faster and performing greater acts of athleticism on center stage, behind the curtain, many suffer serious injuries.

Research shows that up to 95 percent of professional dancers experience an annual injury, many of which are severe enough to disable dancers for a significant amount of time or end their career altogether.

Performing-arts practitioners now recognize dancers as world-class athletes who must endure extreme physical demands and warrant specialty care designed for their unique physiques and lifestyles.

Sixty-five percent of dancer injuries affect the ankle and foot. The most common injuries experienced include:

  • Ankle sprains and instability
  • Posterior ankle impingement
  • Stress fractures
  • Tendonitis around the ankle, including FHL tendonitis and Achilles tendonitis


While the gold standard for an ankle or foot injury is typically total rest in the general population, this results in immobilization and often leads to muscle atrophy. Dancers require an alternative to total rest which allows them to maintain their body's muscle strength and balance without aggravating the current injury.

Alternative therapies may include:

  • Core strengthening exercises
  • Dance technique retraining
  • Dancer specific physical therapy
  • Floor barre exercises
  • Foot and ankle taping techniques
  • Pilates exercises
  • Removable casts

In some cases, surgery may be recommended, but it is important to note that surgery may require six to 12 months of recovery time, when dancers may be unable to perform.

Dance Medicine Center

To serve the Bay Area's large dancer community, UCSF Medical Center established the Dance Medicine Center.

The center is located in the UCSF Orthopaedic Institute at the Mission Bay campus, 1500 Owens St. in San Francisco. The center provides injury and dance technique evaluation, musculoskeletal screening and treatment, and education.

Rather than an office setting, patients are evaluated in the Human Performance Lab, which has a suspended dance floor, ballet barre and a high-tech motion capture system. The team of experts includes physical therapists and an orthopedic surgeon with professional dance backgrounds.

In addition, members of the UCSF dance medicine team participate in the Health Dancers' Clinic, a volunteer-run clinic in San Francisco that provides free injury screening to dancers of all levels, ages and techniques. The clinic is located at the ODC Dance Commons in the Mission District. The volunteer team includes physical therapists, primary care sports medicine specialists and orthopedic surgeons who have backgrounds in professional dance and treating dancers.

Other Resources

For more information, contact the Physician Referral Service at UCSF Medical Center:

Phone (888) 689-UCSF or (888) 689-8273
Email referral.center@ucsfmedctr.org