How many pole dancers does it take to report 1050 injuries?
While we may be able to simultaneously hang upside down from one leg, front split and change a lightbulb solo, it turns out pole dancers are really excelling at collecting injuries, too!
We already know pole has a very high injury rate, but a more recent study by Szopa et al (2022)1 is now helping us understand some of the factors that increase injury risk. The study analysed questionnaires from 320 female pole dancers in Poland, and the results are pretty shocking.
Reading that a whopping 86% of this cohort reported an injury in their pole career made our collective pole-coach hearts sink.
To make matters worse, over 56% of injured pole dancers sustained a re-injury and over 50% reported constantly experiencing pain or discomfort.
Here’s the kicker: injuries were only included if verified by a physician. Woah! We can only imagine the number of injuries that never even made it in front of a health care professional!
These statistics are un-acceptable.
It’s on us as instructors, coaches, studio owners and students of pole to change our approach to injuries for the better, but where on earth do we even start?
Pole dancers – time to address the pain and injury elephant in the room!
This is about more than just ‘use crash mats and a spotter’.
Yes, please, for the love of all that is pole-y, use crash mats and a spotter! But this injury study indicates a much wider problem: that we are simply not doing enough to support the safety of pole dancers in our community.
Fundamentally, we are not taking injury risk seriously enough.
Another staggering finding: over 84% of respondents in the study didn’t receive physiotherapy after their first injury.
Of the dancers who sustained a re-injury, almost 83% did not fully recover, even though the majority of re-injuries were treated with some kind of physiotherapy.
It seems that pole dancers are not seeking healthcare treatment on injury, and when we do eventually seek it after being injured a second time, we’re still not recovering properly.
How can we start to foster a culture where we listen to our bodies more? Where we approach pole, training and injury risk with the respect it deserves? Where pole dancers are encouraged and able to get the help and support we need to rehab and recover properly?
The kind of radical culture change we’re talking about takes time and dedicated effort from all corners of our industry. It’s something we are constantly working towards – in fact, it’s our entire reason for being!
So as a starting point, we’re sharing 6 actionable ways to reduce your injury risk in pole, based on our takeaways from this new research…
#1 Make well-balanced and structured training the norm!
Szopa et al (2022) found that both pole-specific and overall (‘on’ and ‘off the pole’ combined) weekly training volume had an influence on injury rates, with more time spent training linked to higher injury risk.
Unfortunately, a ‘good’ amount of training volume is not universal. How much training time our body can handle is individual and depends on many factors, including our training history and the intensity of our training.
“Combining pole with competitive Olympic weightlifting (two very high skill, high intensity training modalities), for example, will be harder to balance than combining pole with individually programmed weight training.”Neola Wilby, Strength and Conditioning Coach @thepolecompany
A good personal trainer or strength coach can help structure and manage your training volume and intensity appropriately, but if you don’t have the budget for a coach, there are still things you can do.
Most importantly: monitor your own training volume and intensity levels! This study confirms that it’s important to consider overall training time. If you’re training a lot and want to maintain that high volume of training, make sure you also have good recovery strategies in place to mitigate this higher risk of injury.
If you’re a pole instructor, running programmed, progressive courses or ‘training blocks’ rather than ongoing drop-in classes can help incorporate structure and balance into your students’ training. Including recovery-focused classes and incorporating deload weeks into your class schedules, as well as keeping an eye on your regular students and openly discussing the need for balance and recovery – all these things will go a long way! Don’t forget to implement the same strategies in your own training, too!
#2 Get a good physiotherapist on speed dial!
First of all, if you’re experiencing niggles, aches and pains: seek out a good physio who understands pole dance! Don’t wait for it to develop into something worse.
And if you’ve been injured in the past, a regular physio tune-up is always worthwhile! Our bodies are clever at compensating for injuries, so you may find you’re masking less-than-efficient movement patterns while you pole – putting you at higher risk of a second injury.
As an online training space, one of the strategies we implemented to encourage a more proactive approach to injury management was bringing an in-house physio onto our team to help support our clients directly.
Our physio, Georgina, runs online appointments and we always have a place to confidently refer clients if they express any pain or concerns. Often, we can nip injuries in the bud before they even develop.
Not all studios have the luxury of a dedicated physio on-hand, but if you’re a pole instructor or studio owner, even just regularly sign-posting local and/or online physios to your students can help normalise talking about and addressing pain and injury proactively.
#3 Respect post-injury recovery time (aka: follow your physio’s advice!)
It will not surprise you that pole dancers aren’t exactly model patients when we’re injured.
The Szopa study found that 56% of injured pole dancers didn’t take time off after their first injury, and 34% didn’t take time off after re-injuring the same area.
We’re wildly accepting of discomfort. Case in point: we took the Superman and created …the Superpain. Yup, pole dancers are mavericks! That ability to ‘grin and bear it’ is useful when smiling at a panel of Judges mid-competition routine in a Broken Doll, but the same approach should not extend to working through injuries.
A shorter pause in training post-injury and incomplete recovery were linked to increased risk of re-injury, so it’s important we take the appropriate time to follow the recovery process before we jump back into training – and that as instructors we encourage our students to do this, too.
If the mere thought of going cold-turkey from pole gives you the sweats, our physio Georgina has some good advice:
“Remember that ‘time off to recover’ doesn’t necessarily mean stopping training altogether. A good physio will help you plan your “mission: recovery” with exercises that gradually ramp up from re-hab, to recovery, to ‘general training’ and eventually back to pain-free poling.”Georgina Watson, Physiotherapist @thepolecompany
#4 Look out for our pole newbies!
The study highlighted an increased risk of injury for those with less experience in pole.
We’ve pulled out this quote about the forces acting on pole athletes before, but let’s take another look:
2G means twice the force of gravity. Imagine suddenly being twice your weight and trying to do anything… that’s the sort of force we ask our body to deal with while we pole.
Pole is no joke. It takes time to build up strength and mobility, even for the tricks we may consider ‘beginner’ level.
“You wouldn’t dream of asking a gymnastics coach to teach you a back walkover in your fourth class – we know there are progressions and pre-requisite skills to learn first. We need to start giving pole tricks the same respect!”Colleen Jolly, Advanced Skill Coach @thepolecompany
If you’re an instructor or studio owner, taking a considerate approach towards progression, ensuring your syllabus is clear and well-structured and introducing pre-requisites for individual tricks are all great places to start. Prioritising strength and mobility foundations for beginners will also go a long way to preparing students for the demands of pole.
If you’re a pole student, being realistic about your pole goals (both your list of ‘must-have’ tricks and your timescales) and respecting the boundaries set by your coaches is the home-straight to extra credit.
#5 A little extra love for the taller pole dancers
Interestingly, the paper found that increased height was linked to increased injury risk. We need further research to help us work out exactly why and how best to manage the specific risks faced by our taller pole dancers.
Any physicists in the room want to play with the maths here? Adding longer levers to the already challenging forces of pole… it’s certainly interesting from a biomechanics point of view!
For now, just bearing in mind that being taller may come with an additional injury risk factor, so if you’re on the taller side, or you train students who are, giving a little extra consideration to your injury risk strategy is worthwhile.
BONUS #6: Keep the conversation going!
This paper has started on the ambitious task of working out what increases injury risk in pole dancers, but we have a long way to go until we have clear cause-effect relationships.
There is so much happening in the pole world right now, and having another fantastic paper to refer to is an absolute gift! Spreading this research far and wide and talking about it as a community is one of the great ways we can continue to improve awareness and help foster the kind of culture change needed to improve our – let’s face it, pretty dire – injury statistics.
You can read our previous pole dance injury research round-up here! We’ll keep an eye out for more research and keep sharing our take on it with you! If there’s a paper you’ve seen that we haven’t included, make sure you fire it over!
Pole safe, pole friends!
*This is a guest blog post written by Seonaidh Jamieson with contributions from the entire team. Thank you, Seonaidh! Thank you, Team!*
- Szopa A, Domagalska-Szopa M, Urbańska A, Grygorowicz M. Factors associated with injury and re-injury occurrence in female pole dancers. Sci Rep. 2022 Jan 7;12(1):33. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-04000-5. PMID: 34997040; PMCID: PMC8742019.