Good evening everybody! I decided tonight I would answer another question I get asked about a lot – Zumba injuries. Since there are many kinds of injuries I’ve decided to focus on what I consider to be the most common Zumba injury.
Before I begin, it’s important to note that I am talking about injures that occur in a well instructed, SAFE Zumba class. Sadly, there are a lot of unsafe instructors out there causing injuries to people. In a properly conducted class, this should be the number one complaint/injury. If you are in a class where you or a number of other people are getting injured, you may want to think about giving up the class or finding another instructor who is perhaps better qualified to teach. You only get one body – take care of it!
The Most Common Complaint
The biggest complaint or injury that people asked me about (normally when first starting Zumba) is pain in their knees. How do you fix it? Well, if you have no pre-existing conditions that have caused your knees to bother you in the past, the solution is almost always as easy as changing you sneakers. So many people first starting Zumba will come wearing their regular workout sneakers which are often runners. Sneakers with a whole lot of tread on the bottom for grip when you are running – forward. In Zumba we spend a great deal of time moving from side to side as well as pivoting and swivelling on our toes. Those thick treads on the bottom of running sneakers makes those movements harder because your feet want to stick to the floor. When your feet stick to the floor while doing those types of movements it’s a recipe for torquing your knee.
What is Torquing?
Torquing of the knee occurs when your knee is pointing in a different direction than your toes are facing. If you were to put your foot on the floor right now and just imagine moving your knee outwards without bringing your toes along with it you can get a good idea of how much pressure you would be putting on the tendons holding the knee in place. No imagine doing that over and over for an entire hour without even realizing it. No wonder it can make your knees hurt!
How Do I Avoid it?
The answer is pretty easy and two-fold. The easiest remedy – new shoes. Get a pair of sneakers made for cross training or even a dance sneaker. Something that is pretty flat on the bottom with very few (if any) treads. Sometimes you have to test drive a few pairs of sneakers before you find the pair that works for you. Cross trainers and dance sneakers are also good because they are made for lateral (side to side) movement so your ankle is being supported when you move from side to side. Some running shoes these days also provide lateral support but be sure to ask before you buy. Staff at any good shoe store should be able to help you find a pair of sneakers that will work for you.
I have a number of pairs of sneakers I wear for Zumba, and three of them have different sole patterns – and all work just fine for me.
Updated 11/16/2016 to add: this post was written in 2011, so I no longer use the shoes shown above, but I still look for the same type of shoe with a
really flat sole/tread for easy movement.
I can’t tell you how many people who have complained of joint pain came back and told me what a world of different the right pair of shoes made. And they don’t have to be expensive at all.
What if you don’t have time to go get a new pair of sneakers, or can’t afford a second pair? Well, you can still participate in Zumba, you just need to make a couple of modifications to protect your knees. The first thing you need to do is cut out any excessive pivot or swivelling movements. Make sure you are always keeping your knees pointing in the same direction as your toes. If you do need to pivot or swivel, made sure you are unloading the joint (taking the weight of that foot) prior to completing the movement. That way once again, the knee will stay in line with the toes.
Other Injury Concerns
Another less common complaint that I sometimes hear is that the participants toes are going numb or burning during class. This is almost always because they are spending too much time up on their toes while in like a merengue march, but sometimes can happen if your shoes don’t fit you properly. Either way it’s because the circulation is being cut off to the toes (the same as when any other body part falls asleep) and if you find this is happening to you, take a short break and march on the spot for a while until the feeling comes back. If you are wearing proper fitting shoes and insoles, this issue should go away on its own as you become more accustom to being on your toes, but if it doesn’t you may want to speak to a professional to see if there is another underlying issue.
One Last Thing…
A lot of people have a misconception that if you have any type of knee or back problem that you can’t take a Zumba class or that it will make it worse. For most people, this simply isn’t true. Of course there are those that depending on their type of injury could find that Zumba makes it worse, but they are the minority and not the majority. In fact, in the thousand or so people who have taken classes from me in the past year or so, I would say I have encountered maybe 5 who really were unable to do it because of injuries – and maybe of those were due to acute injuries and not long-term injuries. There are also a number of people who take my Zumba classes because it is the only form of exercise that doesn’t bother their torn minicus, or the bursitis in the knee, or their slipped disc (which was repaired but still gives the individual problems when participating in other classes), etc. The awesome thing about Zumba is you can do the class high impact or low impact, and you work at your own level.
The person next to you might be doing the low impact option while you are busting out the high impact option – but as long as you are both working at the pace that is appropriate for you everyone is getting the workout they need and can handle. Obviously if you do have a pre-existing condition you need to get approval from your doctor before beginning Zumba (or any other exercise regime), but in many cases they will tell you to try it out. Often time the worse thing you can do for an injury is nothing.