A professional dancer trains for an average of six hours per day. Due to the rigorous and often repetitive demands on their bodies, dancers are prone to a specific set of injuries not commonly seen in the general population, particularly in the foot, ankle and knee. As with other professional athletes, addressing these issues requires a highly specialized understanding of these injuries and their treatment. It also requires a holistic approach that proactively attempts to keep these top athletes healthy, in addition to treating them when they are injured.
This is the mission of the Healthy Dancers’ Clinic, a joint initiative between the UCSF/SFGH Orthopaedic Trauma Institute (OTI), Oberlin Dance Company (ODC), and a cadre of volunteer healthcare providers whose mission is to provide guidance and advice to dancers on injury management, recovery and longevity.
The HDC was founded in 2005 by Richard Coughlin, an orthopaedic surgeon at the OTI. Dr. Coughlin continues to provide weekly clinics for dancers at ODC, as well as an annual dance medicine anatomy workshop for physical therapists and other healthcare professionals who treat dancers. These clinics are free, as many dancers are uninsured or underinsured. However, even dancers who are insured are often unable to find proper treatment, due to the fact that dance medicine is a highly specialized area of medicine.
The 5th annual healthy dancers workshop, which took place on Monday, May 8 at the OTI’s Surgical Training Facility, included didactic lectures and an anatomy lab covering the hip and pelvis, lower leg, and foot and ankle. The session was well attended by 25 physical therapists who were happy to give up their evening to learn the anatomy associated with en-pointe injuries of the great toe tendon, and other injuries specific to their dance patients.
“To keep dancers healthy and active, we need to take a holistic approach,” said Dr. Coughlin, who conducted the workshop. “HDC is a community-based initiative, so we have to make sure that everyone involved in treating dancers has the knowledge they need to treat them effectively”.
When asked what motivates Dr. Coughlin’s involvement in this type of outreach activity as part of his work at the OTI, he replies, “We’ve created a culture here that accepts this as the norm. This is the standard. Part of our professionalism is to be involved.”