PictureWhat your 33 joints look like en pointe.

I recently watched a video about the biomechanics of jump landing that compared rates of ACL injury between dancers and athletes. If you haven’t seen the video, I strongly recommend you watch it, it’s very interesting! (scroll down to see the video). The study was led by NYU Langone’s Harkness Center for Dance Injuries (HCDI) and allowed HCDI to identify training methods that dancers implement early on that can be useful to athletes who often use jump landing.

The video shows dancers and athletes jumping and landing side by side for comparison. You will notice that the dancers stay more aligned and upright while the athlete’s knees wobble all over the place. Now, the video does offer a skewed perspective – why would you use subjects in a video that do not support your theory? Even with athletes who jump very poorly as a comparison, is dancing really the solution?

Dancing has its own host of biomechanical issues, starting with the extreme amount of external hip rotation that is considered ideal. While it may not cause immediate harm to the joint, I’d argue that all dancers suffer hip injury and degeneration due to their positioning. They do, however, have a very clear advantage over athletes.

Dancers begin learning their craft barefoot – it is not until they are much older do they put on pointe shoes to dance on their toes. Even then, lots of focus is placed on strengthening the feet and working barefoot.

For many athletes, feet are covered by large, cumbersome coffins that are designed to lift arches and support ankles. Feet that wear cushioned shoes 24/7 loose their ability to sense their surroundings and adapt to the many surfaces they encounter. Because many shoes soles are stiff, the foot also looses mobility in the almost 33 joints, leaving it stiff and inflexible. It also should be mentioned that athletes are not the only ones wearing stiff shoes – think about your shoes, dress shoes, or the WORST, high heels.

If your foundation is weak and unable to adapt to changing environments and quick movements, it makes sense that there would be a host of injuries further upstream, such as an increase in ACL tears. My solution would be to send everyone back to basics – working on building strength in the feet and working up from there.

So the moral of the story, in my opinion, is not that we should all run out and take up dance class, but we that we should spend more time barefoot. Jumping and landing properly is not a skill we learn as we develop our movement patterns, mostly because we have already been “shoed” by then. Instead of increasing the amount of support for the foot, why not focus on increasing the amount of strength? It’s not like our bodies were designed over millions of years to require knee, ankle, and spine braces – it’s a new development that has arrived at the same time we stopped moving.

So as always, get moving, go barefoot, and enjoy the outdoors!