HIT TV shows Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance are inspiring folks of all ages to hotfoot their way to health. But experts are warning that while dancing is great for young and old alike, it could do you more harm than good if you don’t take precautions. Already this season there have been injuries on Dancing with the Stars.

Former U.S. House of Representatives Republican Majority Leader Tom Delay, 62, was forced to quit the show after suffering stress fractures in both feet. And Entourage star Debi Mazar, 45, landed in the hospital after tearing a muscle in her neck. Even pro dancer Lacey Schwimmer, 21, was feeling the pain after severely straining the hip flexors and abductor muscles in her upper legs around the groin area. She needed physical therapy for at least three weeks. “I’m doing OK, “she says. “I’m in a lot of pain but hey, that’s a dancer’s life!”

Dance-related injuries are on the rise across the country and most can be prevented, says Dr. Bal Raj, a Beverly Hills orthopedic surgeon. “The problem with Dancing with the Stars is that the contestants become overachievers,” he says. “They vie for the prize and don’t take the time to prepare their bodies properly.”

“Dancing is a very demanding sport that pushes the body way beyond the normal movement we experience in our daily lives. “Dr.Raj says that too often, folks throw themselves onto dance floors, trying to copy what they see on TV. It’s vital, he says to take care before hitting the ballroom. To reduce the risk of injury, take the following steps:

  1. Always stretch the body totally before and after dancing. This will help the muscles and tendons get back to normal after being pulled and pushed.
  2. Wear proper shoes with arch support to help avoid fractures. “You put so much weight on your heel and toes during a fast dance move that it’s easy to overload the bone,” says Dr. Raj.
  3. Check with a professional therapist before beginning an intense dance program to see if you’re in good enough condition for the stress and strain of demanding dance routines. “Very often we have imbalance in our front and back legs which can lead to serious knee and ankle injuries,” says Dr. Raj. “You can help prevent future injury by strengthening the muscles around these joints.”
  4. Drink a glass of milk daily to help maintain bone density and strength.
  5. Finally, choose an age-appropriate dance.
  6. “Our tendons and muscles deteriorate as our age,” says Dr. Raj.

“If you are over 40, you may want to concentrate on learning how to waltz rather than quick step!”

LYNN ALLISON
lynnallison@globefl.com