Zumba injuries on the rise

Date Published: 
December 6, 2013

Zumba remains one of the hottest fitness programs today. Its worldwide appeal has a lot to do with how much people enjoy the way it draws from Latin dance moves to create an upbeat, entertaining exercise program. Some 12 million people are reportedly taking weekly Zumba classes to boogie their way into shape, but doctors say getting your groove on comes with some serious risks.

The increasing numbers and range of injuries being reported by doctors nationwide were the impetus behind a medical column in Consumer Reports last year, alerting the public to the risks.

Consumer Reports Medical Advisor and neurologist Dr. Orly Avitzur reported that the cardio-dance fitness program offers terrific benefits, but the risk for serious injuries are there.

Reports of injuries have been coming in from physicians all over the country. At Georgetown University Hospital’s emergency room, they are reporting a number of stress fractures and sprains.

Dr. Joel S. Buchalter, a clinical assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at the New York University Hospital for Joint Diseases and co-director of New York’s Orthopaedic Institute at Putnam Hospital Center, told Consumer Reports that he has seen a number of patients with knee injuries requiring surgery, tears in the hip labrum, hip bursitis, ankle sprains, shin splints, heel spurs and lumbar strain injuries afflicting Zumba devotees. Interestingly, his patients included three Zumba instructors.

Avitzur said doctors are seeing injuries ranging from shin splints, ankle sprains and heel spurs to muscle strains, hip bursitis, plantar fasciitis, knee problems and injuries that have required surgery.

The risk is more widespread than you would imagine. People who haven’t worked out before and see Zumba as their ticket to dance their way to fitness are at risk if they start without a gradual build up to the strenuous Zumba program. Older people with health issues, such as lower back problems or arthritis in the knees or hips, have a high degree of injury risk, as well.

No surprise there, right? These kinds of risks seem logical. What might surprise you, however, is the number of people who suffer injuries who are engaged in regular, very physical exercise programs, such as running and bicycling, who thought Zumba would be good for cross-training. There’s a reason for it.

Many doctors believe that the injuries can be attributed to the significant number of side-to-side movements that are part of the Zumba program. These moves require hips, knees, feet and ankles to move in one direction. When they’re not, that’s the perfect recipe for injury. Others say people get carried away and don’t realize they’re pushing their bodies too hard.

“A lot of people get caught up with the music and excitement of it, and they lose track of what they’re doing and they don’t realize that they overdid it until long afterwards,” reported Buchalter.

Doctors and physical therapists across the country are watching the rising cases of injuries with concern. The important question is: What should you do?

You know from many of my previous articles that I am the first one to say: every sport or physically challenging program carries risks. The key is to follow tips to avoid the risks so you don’t have to stop working toward getting in shape and having fun.

Be practical. As with any physically demanding program, talk to your doctor before enrolling in a class. If you have heart disease, high blood pressure, asthma, arthritis, osteoporosis or other significant health challenges, you should not begin without clearance from a medical professional.

Make sure you do your homework before you sign up for a program. You want an experienced instructor, and you want to understand the specific location where the class is being taught.

Because basic certification can be earned after completing a one-day course, you need to ask questions about the instructor’s experience and get details about their certification. Find out if your instructor has additional certifications. Are they certified as personal trainers or as a group exercise leader? How long have they been certified? How long have they been teaching Zumba classes?

The right instructor should be teaching on the proper surface. Do not sign up for a class that is being taught on hard tile, concrete, carpeting or floors that consist of a thin layer of wood over concrete. Hardwood floors are the best, but you have to pay attention, because they can get damp from perspiration and humidity. You also want to make sure you find a class that is geared toward your age group.

Zumba incorporates moves from dances ranging from tango and hip-hop to salsa and bellydancing. These are physically demanding dances that have intricate moves. That’s why, once you find the right instructor and the right class, you should take a preparatory course that teaches you basic Zumba moves. If you can’t find one of those, try a beginner’s course in Latin dance.

When you’re getting ready for class, make sure you’re wearing shoes designed for Zumba. Zumba shoes don’t have grips, or very few, to allow you to easily turn and move without sticking to the floor. Everyday athletic shoes or shoes for sports like running will not work. They aren’t designed for the side-to-side movements, and they put you at much greater risk for ankle, knee and hip injuries.

Warm up before you begin each class session. When you work your muscles, you raise your body temperature, and that helps reduce some injuries and soreness after your class. During class, keep yourself properly hydrated to replace the significant amount of fluid you lose through perspiration. If you feel lightheaded, stop exercising and drink to avoid passing out.

As with any exercise program, don’t think because everyone else is doing a particular move, you have to, too. There are many potentially dangerous moves, and some require too much exertion for you as an individual. You don’t want your heart rate to go up too high or become extremely short of breath. The best instructors will suggest less intense alternatives. If your instructor doesn’t, substitute some lower-impact moves yourself.

There’s a simple quote about dance that says it all: “It takes an athlete to dance.” Keep on dancing!

Bob Cairo is a licensed physical therapist at Tidewater Physical Therapy. He can be-reached by calling (302) 537-7260.