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Tuesday
May242011

5 Tips to Prevent Zumba Knee Pain

I hate to say that a few of my Zumba students have complained of knee pain, so much so that they’ve had to skip class to recover. From what I’ve heard from other instructors, it’s not an uncommon problem. Zumba movements are inspired by Latin dance steps, which may include twisting, fast footwork, and lateral (side-to-side) movements. Add to that the aerobic fitness aspect that may include high-impact options such as hops, lunges, and even jumping jacks and your knee and ankle joints end up absorbing quite a bit of stress. Zumba is also an exciting class with pulsating addictive music and a slight competitiveness among members, so students may ignore their limitations and the physical needs of their bodies. The last thing I want is to cause early overuse wear and tear of delicate joints that can lead to more serious long-term injuries! So below I'm sharing five really important tips. They are applicable to all dance fitness classes.

Warm up.  Spend a minimum of five minutes warming the whole body such as marching in place or walking on the treadmill—this awakens all of your muscles by increasing blood flow. Then focus on particularly vulnerable joint areas such as the shoulders, knees and ankles. Shoulder shrugs, shoulder circles, squats, plies (side knee bends) and heel lifts are examples. If your Zumba instructor does not include an adequate warm up, take 10 minutes before the class to do this.

Get the right shoes.  Running shoes offer great cushioning but usually have too much traction for Zumba dance movements, which require twisting and turning. The best Zumba shoe has adequate foot bed cushioning, a smooth surface in the toe for turns, and is fairly lightweight (some moves are very fast and you don’t want your feet weighted down with heavy shoes). Zumba Fitness specifically recommends good supportive shoes such as cross-trainers, “aerobic” style shoes, or dance-specific sneakers. They provide the cushion and medial-lateral support needed for side-to-side movements, and have low traction rubber for easy sliding and turning. Avoid shoes with heavy treads. I currently wear Puma Voltaic II or Nike Lunarfly shoes—both are actually running shoes but have light treads; I like the extra cushioning they provide. On the flip side, you don't want shoes that are too slippery, as I've found with some dance sneakers. When wearing these, my legs would stiffen as my feet tried to grip the floor to prevent slip-sliding, promoting bad form and excess strain on several joints.

Cross-train.  Repetitive movements of any kind increase your risk for injury. I know some people who will only do Zumba for exercise. Even if you use different instructors, the movements are similar and you will be straining similar muscle groups. Mix up Zumba classes with strength training or Pilates classes at least twice weekly and ideally at least one yoga class (or home video). These other types of exercise will actually make you a better Zumba “dancer,” promise!

Consider a knee brace.  This is like a stretchy band-aid you wear over your knee. It helps support your knee especially by limiting lateral “sliding” of your knee cap. You can find them at any drugstore. They range in price from $8-$15 for one brace. I’m not sure why some of my students are resistant to these. I often display my knee brace to encourage others to wear them. I do notice less knee strain overall when wearing them during class.

Stretch.  Most athletes and gym goers do not stretch enough! It’s an extremely undervalued component of exercise regimens and yet absolutely crucial for muscle recovery and maintaining healthy joints and tendons. Your muscles need to be elastic and flexible to absorb shock and perform the sometimes extreme movements of Zumba. Please, please spend at least 15 minutes after any cardiovascular or strength workout to stretch. Here is a good stretch routine that hits the major muscle groups. Also remember to hydrate before and after class as muscles are made of 70%-75% water, and water is needed to lubricate joints and help muscles to contract and relax.

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Reader Comments (23)

Great tips, thanks Nancy!!

May 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCathy

Thanks for the tips. I am a new Zumba junky and am sitting in a chair with my leg elevated--RICE. I do have Cross Trainer shoes, but probably did too much too fast and not enough stretching. I plan to incorporate the Yoga like you said once a week; probably a video. I hope my knee heals fast and I will wear a knee brace in class. I am a moderate exerciser, but have been an instructor of Kick Boxing, Toning Classe, Step and Dance Aerobics in the past and have never suffered a knee injury. I know the proverbial--"knees behind the toes", so this is very hard for me to accept.

June 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterlauri

Hi Lauri, Yes I can relate! I used to take some intense dance classes and had never developed sore knees like in Zumba. I wonder if it's the combo of fast music, a lot of lateral movement, twisting of the hips, etc. that makes soreness so common. I do hope your knee heals soon!! I've found that doing all the tips mentioned above makes a big difference. Good luck!

June 30, 2011 | Registered CommenterFitMamaEats

Great post. I too was having knee pains wheile doing Zumba so I stopped going. I'm going to change the type of shoe i am wearing and give it another try.

October 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterseejanesweat

stupid post... all this is saying is continue the wear and tear on your knees so you can continue teaching this stupid aerobics. people try kickboxing instead. it's a LOT more practical

December 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbumquisha

bumquisha: These are tips that are applicable to all aerobics-type classes, including kickboxing. I take kickboxing classes and you can definitely injure similar joints (e.g., doing jabs traveling laterally). Zumba is insanely popular and not going away anytime soon. The problem is that some people wrongly think it's all fun and dancing. It can be an extremely athletic workout and so needs precautions like the ones listed above. If you were a runner or cyclist, you'd need special shoes, a warmup, stretching, etc.

December 15, 2011 | Registered CommenterFitMamaEats

Cross training is important! Strength training or weight training is really good to make you a better and less injury prone Zumba-er. It is important to work and strengthen all muscles. Doing squats properly helps to strengthen quads (thighs), hamstrings (back of thigh), and assists your hip flexion. It also works your glutes (booty). That along with working all muscles will make you do far better.

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterlittleleers

littleleers: Excellent advice - thank you for sharing!

December 22, 2011 | Registered CommenterFitMamaEats

http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/choosing-best-workout-shoes

I found this to be a good guide.

December 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNicole

after 2.5 yrs doing zumba.......it ruined my knees.ligamentrs around knees loose and cause knee TO SLIDE OUT OF PLACE.And I wore proper shoes!!!!! My ortho MD has seen soooo many injuries from zumba.Something that is supposed to help you, only causes many knee problems......Do yourself a favor,do another form of exercise.

December 28, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermary

Thanks Nicole for that shoe guide! Ugh Mary, I'm sorry about the knee problems. That is why I wrote this article -- to make people more aware of possible injury. Zumba advertising tends to emphasize the "dance party" aspect rather than the real potential for injuries. It's not just about wearing the right shoes but following ALL 5 of the points above. In addition, you have to listen to your body. Being even slightly overweight will place more strain on your joints and the potential for wear and tear (do strength training to build muscle around those knee joints to help protect this area). So take it easy and keep it low impact. Wear the knee braces for support. My students who follow these tips have noticed a big difference. Zumba is a great, effective workout that people don't want to give up, so you have to be smart about it.

When instructing, I'm now more aware to do less high impact lateral (side to side) movements, and I really value students' feedback. If you're feeling pain after Zumba classes, let your instructor know. Chances are, she/he wants to know and will show modifications of difficult moves.

December 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFitMamaEats

My Zumba teacher just had to have her hip and knee replaced: she blames it on Zumba teaching. Every single time I take a Zumba class I come out of it with a stinging-feeling in my knees that takes about three days to heal. I have professional dance experience and I know how to move. Zumba is a problematic workout.

February 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMaria

Very helpful tips Nancy. I'll be sure to get a knee brace and to do proper stretching and warm ups.

August 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

After doing Zumba for about 1.5 years, I have had to stop for the last four months because of tendon problems in both knees. Even the slightest bit of impact on my knee, and I'll have pain all day. Zumba addicts, beware: don't overdo it. I was in great shape, and increased my Zumba activities too quickly, and performed them on an unforgiving floor. Don't make the same mistake!

September 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMindy

Thanks for your wise warnings Mindy!

September 20, 2012 | Registered CommenterFitMamaEats

I started zumba today and halfway through the class I felt a snap on my right need and was painful. I sucked it up and finished the class the best I could. Now at home, I cannot straighten my knee at all and barely walk on it.

August 22, 2013 | Unregistered Commenternewby

Yes, this type of injury is all too common in Zumba: the problem with Zumba is that there are too many sudden, sharp, change-of-directions moves that cause the knee to twist out of joint.

August 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMarie

I am having excruciating pain in my shins. Feels like I'm fracturing my tibias. I wear dansko shoes all the time and have high arches. Zumba shoes are so flat with no arch support. Could this be my problem? I feel like I'm sliding out the toe of the shoes.

November 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVeronica

Hi Veronica, I'm not an expert in this but it sounds like you've developed shin splints (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/shin-splints/DS00271). If so this would require some rest and making sure you have a supportive shoe. I don't prefer dance shoes/sneakers for zumba because many have that flexible arch with no support; this is meant for ease/flexibility in pointing the toe but if you jump and have flat feet, this can produce pain over time. I agree that zumba shoes are too flat. A good shoe should have arch support and cushioning in the heel. Try to find a running shoe without too much tread.

November 18, 2013 | Registered CommenterFitMamaEats

I came across this looking for tips to prevent knee pain... I just started doing the Zumba program to help me in my work and overall fitness - I am an "exotic dancer." (No harsh judgement please, it certainly wasn't my first choice.) But, that being said, we're required to wear heels at all times while on the clock. That means twisting, bending, gyrating, and even a little jumping all on our tiptoes and at least four inches above our natural heights. This is truly taking it's toll on my knees, as well as my feet! My knees are stiff, and my toes are numb - Ladies, what can I do to ease this pressure? (And once again, please understand that I cannot "just quit." At least not until I am able to find another form of employment, which, where I live, is incredibly difficult to do.)

March 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTiffany

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