With any physical or athletic activity you can end up with issues both minor and major. As graceful as we are when it comes to dancing, I’m sure there’s a few of you like me who are clumsy AF. I seriously once broke my wrist walking… WALKING. But that’s a story for another day.

In terms of common ballet injuries and injury prevention, we’ve covered a few different topics.

But we still haven’t covered the hips. Hip pain also happens to be one of the most common injuries and discomforts that dancers face.

Let’s start with the basics.

What Causes Hip Pain in Dancers?

Hip pain in dancers (especially ballet) can easily be attributed to overuse and exhaustion of the muscles surrounding the hip joint. As dancers progress to more advanced stages, the intensity and hours of ballet lead to more injuries in the hip joints.

There are four key muscles that cause hip pain, and if these muscles become injured, then they may go into spasm to protect themselves. This will affect the biomechanics of your hips and lead to discomfort/pain. Afterward, your muscles may begin to compensate for the injured/tired hip muscle, and this can lead to other pain in the lower back and knees. One of the more noticeable muscles that will see side effects is your “piriformis”, AKA your turnout muscle.

The most common cause of anterior hip pain in young dancers is a strain of the rectus femoris, followed by the sartorius, psoas, and iliacus. This discomfort can stem from overruse, exhaustion, poor body mechanics, and body misalignment from poor fitting pointe shoes.

The four main muscles that cause hip pain: rectus femurs, sartorius, psoas, and iliacus.

What’s up with the rectus femoris and hip pain?

The rectus femoris is one of the most overused muscles in ballet. Different techniques and steps require you to perform hip flexion at or above 90 degrees, with knee extension (rectus femoris primary action). And to top it all off, once you’re in this position, you’re required to abduct and rotate the hips, switching the stress of the muscles to the sartorius. Following that, you’ll move back to the previous position, putting the stress back on your rectus femoris! I know way more medical muscle terms than you wanted to hear. But knowledge is power amiright?

4 Hip Muscles. How to determine which is the cause of the pain?

If you’re like me, then you probably want to self-diagnose. Please make sure to consult with your doctor or physiotherapist, we advise speaking with them regarding any hip pain you’re experiencing.

If you’d like to self-diagnose which muscle is the primary cause of the anterior hip pain, then gently apply pressure around the region of the ASIS (hip and connected muscle area) with your hands. If the problem is the rectus femoris and/or sartorius, then the palpation will create a pain in the anterior hip. Next, gently apply pressure to the different muscles to determine which or if both are involved. Note: it’s also perfectly normal to experience a sharp anterior pain with hip flexion near the end of your range. This occurs because the anterior hip structures and capsule are overstretched and getting pinched in the hip joint as you flex your thigh.

How to Treat Hip Pain From Dancing

Before listening to any advice found online, make sure to speak with your doctor or physiotherapist. Some of the tips we provide below are based on my personal experiences, and the experiences of our team, but may not be what is recommended for your particular condition.

RICE method

We’ve mentioned the RICE method before. It’s one of the most common guidelines for treating most injuries. It stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. This is one of the most common methods of self-treating hip pain and almost any injury.

The most difficult part of following RICE, or any treatment, is that you need to take some time off from dancing. I know right. But part of healing means resting for at least 48 hours and then slowly starting back up, making sure to be very careful as you get back into the swing of things.

You might think the compression part sounds a bit goofy, but I’ve been able to take ace wrap around my hip and pelvis with some success. Make sure to make it overly tight. You should not feel a throbbing pain from compression.

Stretches that Ease Hip Pain and Discomfort

Stretching is life. As long as you’re not experiencing too much pain or discomfort, then you should be stretching after dance or any excessive for that matter.

After your body has cooled down for a few minutes, stand with your right side next to the wall. Place your right hand on the wall with your elbow slightly bent. Then, move your left foot and cross it over your right foot. Keep your right leg straight and your left slightly bent. Now, slowly move your right hip toward the wall and hold the stretch. Remember: no bouncing. You should be feeling the stretch in your right outer hip and thigh. Also, make sure to switch sides to hit your left side as well.

Should you get massages to help with hip pain?

When it comes to ballet injuries, massages can help relax the muscles and remove any unwanted tension. However, never get a massage prior to dancing or performances. Massages can over-relax your muscles which may actually lead to injuries.

Overcoming hip tightness

Sometimes, you may not classify your hip discomfort as “pain”, but maybe more of a tightness. This is common in ballet dancers and a result of overuse and stress on the hip muscles. Hip tightness is something you’ll run into more than a few times in your dance careers.

To determine if you have tight hips try this:

1. Lay down on a table or surface where your body can also hang. Put your butt on the edge of the table or service, and let your legs hang off the edge.
2. Pull your knees to your chest and hold them with your arms.
3. Now, let your leg go back to hanging off the edge of the surface. Make sure you have someone watching as you do this to monitor the location of your knee on the hanging leg.
4. Your knee should easily hang below the edge of the table
5. If your knee stays above the edge of the table or in line, then your hips are tight and you to work on flexibility an stretching. Post dancing, you should use your hands to gently apply pressure and massage your hips.

Hip Flexor Pain

Hip flexors are a common term you’ll hear in conjunction with hip pain. your hip flexors are a collection of muscles mentioned earlier known as iliopsoas or inner hip muscles: Psoas major. Iliacus muscle.

Preventing Hip Flexor Pain.

Preventing pain/discomfort in your hip flexors is as simple as following the above advice, but also take care to improve your hip flexibility. Warming up your muscles and stretching your hip flexors will help to increase your range of motion, and decrease injuries to this muscle group.

Two great stretches for this are the butterfly stretch and a deep squat.

Increasing hip strength is also a great deterrent for hip flexor pain.

Hip Flexor strength exercises.

  • The knee-to-elbow exercise increases strength in your hip flexor and core. To do this exercise:
    • Kneel with your hands on the ground, directly below your shoulder, so that you are square on all fours.
    • Extend your legs back, as if you are preparing to do push-ups.
    • Pull your belly button into your spine and contract your abdominal muscles to stabilize your core.
    • Bring your knee forward until it touches your right elbow.
    • Then straighten your right leg and bring your left knee forward to touch your left elbow.
    • Continue to alternate back and forth for one minute.
    • Rest for 30 seconds and then repeat the exercise for another minute.
  • Straight leg raises while sitting on the edge of a chair or lying down.
    • Lift one leg three to four inches off the ground while holding that leg straight.
    • Hold for 5 seconds.
    • Rest. Repeat 15 to 20 times.
  • Leg extensions
    • Lay on your stomach or kneel on all fours.
    • Extend one leg backwards, hold straight, and raise it 3 to 4 inches off the ground.
    • Hold for five seconds. Repeat 15 to 20 times for each leg.

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