Pain and Injury in Dancers

Dancers report a high level of pain and/or injury. While research in non-dance populations has shown that pain involves not just physical (e.g. strength) and anatomical (e.g. tissue sprain) factors, many dance injury screening programmes do not consider wider contributors to pain/injury.

This study examined absence from dance due to pain/injury in a group of 85 adult Irish dancers. These dancers were either (i) elite competitive dancers, (ii) professional Irish dancers or (iii) in full time third level education studying Irish dance. The dancers completed an extensive questionnaire providing information on their dance background and practices, their general health and mental well-being, sleep patterns, performance, pain and attitudes to food. They also provided a detailed account of their pain and injury history for the previous five years. A physical examination looked at a variety of factors including flexibility, balance, lower limb strength and endurance, hypermobility and pain pressure thresholds. Dancers then recorded any pain and injury suffered each month for 12 months.

In the analysis, dancers were divided into two groups according to the amount of time missed due to pain/injury. Those dancers who missed more time dancing due to pain/injury were found to have poorer general health, worse sleep, more bodily areas of pain and suffered more daily pain and pain when dancing. They also had higher levels of anger-hostility and showed a trend towards suffering from more psychological issues. No physical findings were associated with being in the group with more absence from dance. These findings endorse a growing body of work in non-dance populations showing that pain (and the impact of pain) is related to much more than local tissue damage or physical factors like strength and balance. Consideration of general health factors such as those identified in this study may help reduce pain/injury rates among dancers.


Roisin Cahalan graduated from the University of Limerick with a degree in physiotherapy in 2008. Prior to that she worked as a professional dancer for eight years with “Riverdance, The Show”. She completed her PhD under the supervision of Dr. Kieran O’Sullivan and Prof. Peter O’Sullivan on pain/injury in dancers in 2014. She has worked in a variety of therapy environments and has her own clinic treating musculoskeletal conditions in dancers and athletes. She is currently researching pain and injury in a variety of different dance genres in adolescents and adults. Dr. Cahalan is also a qualified Irish dance teacher. She works currently as a Practice Education Co-ordinator in Physiotherapy at the University of Limerick, Ireland.


Related Publications

  1. Cahalan, R., O’Sullivan, K., Purtill, H. Bargary N., Ni Bhriain O. and O’Sullivan, P. (2015).   ‘Inability to perform due to pain/injury in elite adult Irish dance: A prospective investigation of contributing factors’, Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports,
  2. Cahalan, R., O’Sullivan, K., Purtill, H. and O’Sullivan, P. (2015) ‘A cross-sectional study of elite adult Irish dancers: traits, pain & injury’, Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 19(1), 31-43
  3. Cahalan, R., O’Sullivan, K., Purtill, H. and O’Sullivan, P. (2014). Foot and ankle pain and injuries in elite adult Irish dancers. Medical Problems of Performing Artist, 29(4) 198-206.
  4. Cahalan, R. and O’Sullivan, K. (2013a) ‘Injury in Professional Irish Dancers’, Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 17(4),150-158.
  5. Cahalan, R. and O’Sullivan, K. (2013) ‘Job Satisfaction of Professional Irish Dancers: Implications for Performer Health and Well-being’, Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 17(4), 139-149.
  6. Cahalan, R. and O’Sullivan, K. (2013) ‘Musculoskeletal pain and injury in Irish dancing: A systematic review’, Physiotherapy Practice and Research, 34(2), 83-92.
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