Zumba is an effective workout for nearly every type of exerciser, with its flowing and fun dance steps to upbeat music. But as in any fitness program, injuries can occur. “The world of Zumba is excellent, but over the years I’ve seen a number of Zumba injuries,” says Dr. Michael R. Marks, American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons spokesperson and Vice President of Business Development at Norwalk Hospital in Norwalk, Conn. We got the scoop from Marks and physical therapist and Zumba instructor Sharon Sathuthiti on the most common Zumba injuries—and how to prevent them so you can dance on.
The injury: sprained ankle. As in any exercise class, footwear is key. Zumba involves several side-to-side dance moves, so running shoes, which are made for forward movement, are not ideal. “So often I see people go straight to class from the treadmill in their running shoes, which increases your chances of twisting an ankle.”
The fix: “I recommend basketball shoes, because there are lots of similar movements, like quick stopping and turning, in basketball and Zumba,” says Sathuthiti.
The injury: knee pain. Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS), also known as runner’s knee, is characterized by pain in the kneecap area. It can occur due to overuse, excess weight, lack of quadriceps strength or tight hamstrings. “Zumba involves a lot of lateral, quick, stop-and-go movements that can cause a lot of strain on the knee,” Sathuthiti adds.
The fix: Focus on knee extension exercises and quad- and glute-strengthening moves like squats, making sure to keep the knees behind the toes. And be sure to stretch. You can also consider taping your knee before class, Sathuthiti says.
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The Injury: muscle strains. From hamstring to groin to low back, pulled muscles can occur from skimping on stretches or going too hard, too fast. “Adequate stretching before and after class is an important all-around injury preventative,” says Sathuthiti, who recommends five to 10 minutes of full-body stretching before and after class. During class, listen to your body. “Sometimes people are just not ready for the level of activity presented by the instructor,” Marks says.
The fix: Always warm up and cool down, and find an instructor that suits your fitness ability. Each instructor has his or her own style, so observe the class before joining, or call the gym for the scoop.
The injury: tendonitis in the shin.Known as posterior tibialis tendonitis in doctor-speak, this injury feels similar to shin splints, but the pain is slightly to the side of the leg instead of the front. It occurs when the tendon that runs between the knee and ankle becomes inflamed. “Posterior tibialis tendonitis can be caused from the quick lateral movements or wearing improper shoes,” says Sathuthiti.
The fix: Like muscle strains, posterior tibialis tendonitis can be prevented by stretching and taking it slow if you are new to exercise.
The injury: bone fractures. Marks has treated several fractures due to falls during Zumba, including to bones in the forearm and foot. Each instance was caused by an overcrowded classroom, he says. In most cases, Marks’ patients had a run-in with a classmate that caused the fall. “The lateral movements make it tricky. You are moving from side to side, but often looking forward at the instructor so it’s hard to see where you’re going.”
The fix: Keep an eye on your surroundings, or skip classes that are overcrowded. Talk to the exercise director at your gym if classes become popular enough to warrant adding another class.