10 Common Dance Injuries (One at a Time): SCP STYLE

Martha’s Graham once said,

Movement never lies.

Oh how beautiful and true a statement that is. Once I see you move. I see YOUR TRUTH…YOUR STORY. Dancers move and they move a lot. Dance is the expression of your soul. However, when you express yourself truthfully and completely 100% with passion doing what you love, you sometimes get hurt. Maybe from too much dance, poor technique, or what I look for; poor fundamental movement patterns.

If you treat and assess dancers you MUST observe them dancing. You MUST do an examination that includes movement. A standard medical, therapeutic, and orthopedic exam IS NOT ENOUGH. You WILL MISS SOMETHING! I guarantee it.

How can you discover a dancer’s truth if you don’t see them move? You can’t!

I love to dance and I love to treat dancers. It’s a passion of mine. I always read and research about dance injuries and came across an article in Dance Teacher Magazine by Nancy Wozny ….. On the 10 Common Dance Injuries. I figured why not give a brief glimpse into how I look at each one. Keep in mind this is just one possibility. My movement assessment is 1-hour long in my office. I will discover your story.

I will post one a week. So here you go….


The neck RULES the movement road. The head goes where the eyes go, and the body goes where the head goes. First you look, then you move. The neck relates to every movement chain in your body…flexion, extension, rotation, side bending, diagonal, and spiral. That’s dancing. Neck strain means overuse. The neck is working too hard and it strains. Why is it working so hard? Because something else is not working enough. The neck takes up the slack and does its job, plus the job of another muscle pattern. You won’t help the neck long term until you find the dysfunctional pattern.


The biggest culprit I see in dancers? Sternocleidomastoid and rotational pattern dysfunction of the neck to the spiral line and obliques. Rotation is the key in dance injuries. The SCM (sternocleidomastoid) is the most elusive and nastiest culprit I find. It’s a huge rotator.

For example, if you look to the left, the right SCM must engage and the left splenius muscles force couple with it to turn the head. This fires the spiral line of movement patterning (see left) related to the right external and left internal oblique to rotate your torso left. The brain is anticipating a turn in the body, even if you don’t move.

Well, if your obliques are dysfunctional and inhibited you will rotate more with your neck and less with your torso. This will lead to overwork in the neck and strain because the torso rotators are not doing their fair share. The body takes the path of least resistance to move you…over and over and over.

You can treat the neck all day long and it will not stay better. Why? When you move without an oblique system that works efficiently the neck will work more taking you right back where you started. Neck pain!

So the lesson for neck strain in dancers is…IT’S NEVER JUST THE NECK! It’s always more. Take it further down the chain and you can look at the foot on the same side of the neck strain as it relates to the lower torso part of the spiral line. Last time I checked dancers use their feet…a lot. 🙂

For those who treat dancers: Check the SCM and obliques for function.

For dancers who need to get treated: Ask your therapist about the obliques in relationship to the neck strain you have. If they tell you there is no connection or they look puzzled and blow you off, find another therapist because they really don’t know movement like they should. You deserve better than that.


Self test for the possible SCM dysfunction (not intended to be a diagnosis).

As always seek medical attention when you have pain.

Lie on the ground face up arms by your side and relaxed. Lift your head up off the ground bringing chin to chest. Rotate to the left and hold for 10 seconds. DO NOT HOLD YOUR BREATH. Note any pain. Shaking. Difficulty. (If too much pain…STOP).

Now rotate to the right and hold 10 seconds head off the ground.


Is one side stronger than the other? Is one side painful and the other not? If there is any difference you have an SCM asymmetry that may contribute to neck pain and strain.

Try this assessment even if your neck does not have a strain injury and see if there is a difference. If there is You MAY BE HEADED FOR A NECK INJURY.

That’s all folks. Next week is #2…Rotator cuff tendinitis