Do dancers, the fine artists, have a higher injury rate than the more aggressive martial artists practicing TaeKwonDo?

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Studies show that 64%-80% of professional dancers need to stop performing for extended periods due to Overuse Syndrome (OS). Although ballet and Tae Kwon Do seem to have similarities in muscle lengthening, the Tae Kwon Do injury rate is significantly lower.

Do dancers, the fine artists, have a higher injury rate than the more aggressive martial artists practicing TaeKwonDo?

If you guessed that yes, ballet dancers have the higher injury rate, you are correct! I came across an interesting study showing this surprising conclusion the other day whilst nerding out on Pub Med.

In this recent study (March 2013) published in the Research in Sports Medicine journal, aptly titled Comparison of repetitive movements between ballet dancers and martial artists: risk assessment of muscle overuse injuries and prevention strategies, researchers looked at both ballet dancers and Taekwondo artists to observe the differences in injuries of the two activities.

Both activities are similar in that they require a significant amount of flexibility, particularly at the hip (high kicks and fun things like that), yet the injury rate in Taekwondo is much lower. And this despite the fact that Taekwondo is clearly a contact sport.

Why? Taekwondo was even found to be a higher intensity activity, so the intensity factor in ballet can be ruled out as the reason for their higher injury rate.

The methods used were 3D motion capture and biomechanics modeling. Six ballet dancers and five Tae-Kwon-Do artists participated in the study. The results show that intensity during Taekwondo is higher than that during ballet, particularly for small muscles. As intensity cannot be responsible for higher injuries, strength training for small muscles and shorter exercise duration in Tae-Kwon-Do may account for the reversed rate; consequently, this is a promising procedure for ballet training.

So there you have it. Despite the fact that Taekwondo is a martial art with a higher intensity than ballet, requiring similar flexibility, the injury rate remains lower because they are STRONGER. Promising findings for ballet dancers indeed. Findings that correlate anecdotally with my own personal experience training dancers for strength.

Another interesting thing to note is that, in my humble opinion, the different psychology of the two activities could also be a factor in the high dance injury rate compared to martial arts. Whereas in many martial arts participants are taught to be “like water” and to master their minds, dancers often have highly stressful lives and suffer from anxiety, depression and body dysmorphic disorders.

Obviously it depends on the quality of instruction, but I believe that this focus on mind-body is an important aspect that gets ignored in dance, while for martial artists it is of supreme importance. An unhealthy, weak mind makes for an easily injured body, too.

Clearly this is something that requires more investigation, but its worth thinking about, for now.