The Most Gut-Wrenching Injuries In DWTS History

If there is one show pretty much everyone can get behind, it's "Dancing With the Stars." Each season, an array of celebrities — hailing from the dramatic halls of reality television mansions to athletic arenas and everything in between — take to the dance floor to compete in a larger-than-life ballroom competition. With innovative choreography, impressive technical performances, and a panel of judges that are as entertaining as the dancers themselves, "Dancing With the Stars" is a hit, season after season.


While some fan-favorites go home strictly because there aren't enough votes to keep them in the running, some stars have had to take hiatuses from the competition (or leave the show outright) due to injury. "Dancing With the Stars" certainly pushes its celebrity talent to new heights of physical capabilities (just think of some of those lifts!), and unfortunately, some injuries have been both competition- and life-altering. Of course, stars being eliminated from the show is always a disappointment, but it's even worse when the departure is due to injuries or health concerns. So if you've ever watched the show and wondered about the worst injuries that have happened during "Dancing With the Stars," wonder no more. Here are the most gut-wrenching injuries in the show's history.


Jeannie Mai had to suddenly leave the show due to a scary health concern

When Jeannie Mai was cast on "Dancing With the Stars," viewers were in for a treat. She was fiery, competitive, and had a dance style that was fully her own. It seemed as though Mai and her partner, Brandon Armstrong, were going to make it far in the competition, but Mai suddenly had to back out of the show due to a horrific throat complication. In an episode of "Hello Hunnay" hosted by Mai, she revealed that a doctor had misdiagnosed her, given her steroids, and allowed her to continue to train for the competition, per Entertainment Tonight. 


That was a mistake, and within a few days, Mai was rushed into emergency throat surgery. "I stayed consistent and rescheduled the rehearsal with Brandon. I was almost dying in that room, but I didn't know it [at the time] because I was pushing through and hyped up on steroids," she shared. The next morning, Mai couldn't breathe. "I was literally like gasping for air," Mai said of her health scare. Mai is mended, and is expecting a baby as of publication, but talk about a scary circumstance.

Christie Brinkley's devastating injury forced her out of the show

When it was announced that Christie Brinkley would be joining the cast, fans of Sports Illustrated everywhere were excited. But Brinkley's time on the show was tragically cut short when she fell during a studio practice and shattered her arm. She exclusively told People at the time that she knew it was a bad break as soon as she hit the floor, and it was enough to completely take her out of the competition. 


"The second I landed, I felt the shards in my arm," she said. "Like, I literally felt it in my wrist, and I just instantly looked up and said, 'I'm so sorry, I broke my arm.' There's a little bone at the thumb that usually posts one way. Mine was in the opposite direction. Then there was bone, just it, it was just shattered into a thousand little pieces, just a million little pieces." The extent of Brinkley's injury was significant. She explained to People that she had a number of broken bones which required surgery, and she now has a metal plate and screws keeping her arm intact. In addition to that horrific injury, Brinkley also suffered from a dislocated wrist and twisted ankle.

Tamar Braxton had to pull out of the show due to a pulmonary embolism

Dealing with a difficult injury, like a twisted ankle or a pulled muscle, can make dancing feel absolutely impossible. But what about when your blood vessel health gets involved? That can be truly dangerous, which was why Tamar Braxton ended up pulling out from "Dancing With the Stars" during Season 21. As noted by ABC News, Braxton was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism, and she and her partner, Val Chmerkovskiy, left the show as a result. 


"After yesterday's final #dwts performance I went back to the hospital (after the doctors didn't want me to leave in the first place) only to find out that I don't have pneumonia but something way more serious and that is having several P.E.'s (blood clots in both sides of my lungs)," Braxton wrote on social media (via ABC News, as the post is no longer available). Braxton went on to say that while she would motivate anyone, including herself, to push past hurdles that present themselves, she knew her health had to come first. Bindi Irwin and her partner, Derek Hough, went on to win the season, per The Guardian.

Bobby Bones' dance-induced injury sounded so painful

Bobby Bones was the "Dancing With the Stars" champ that no one saw coming. As noted by The Washington Post at the time he snagged the mirror ball trophy, Bones hadn't scored higher than an eight out of 10 throughout the entire season (except for his freestyle performance), so his win really did seem to come out of the blue. But there might've been a time during his training when Bones thought twice about continuing, as he was "elbowed in the mouth twice" by pro dance partner Sharna Burgess (by accident, of course). 


He told People that during rehearsal, Burgess had spun into him, resulting in a pretty awful-sounding dental injury. "There was blood and a tooth. I still don't know what I'm doing. She was doing her spin thing, and she was doing what she was supposed to do, and my face was not doing what it was supposed to do," he said. What's more is that the dental injuries weren't the only ailment Bones was dealing with at the time. Just over two weeks into the competition, he shared that he had "sore ankles and knees" due to the physical toll dancing brings. "You know, things aren't supposed to bend certain ways," he said.

Kaitlyn Bristowe pushed through injury, but it was a close call

For former bachelorette Kaitlyn Bristowe, her time on the show was almost cut short due to injury. She told Entertainment Tonight that she faced foot injuries that were, in her point of view, the "worst case scenario," and that she had to push through the pain in order to compete. "It was a little sore at first. We had a couple of rehearsals and I had to take off my heel and I stepped on my bare foot and I was like, 'Oh no.' I could not put weight on it," Bristowe shared. "I just broke into tears and I went straight to physical therapy." 


Bristowe recalled that her first thought was, "Hey universe, not fair," as she came to realize just how severe her injury was. She shared that at one point, she just curled up on the couch and cried. But Bristowe persevered even though she was advised to stay out of the competition. "My heart was broken. I was like, 'I don't even care ... I still have to dance through it.' They [were] like, 'I don't know if you can,' but I was like, 'But I will,'" she shared, and that tenacity paid off, because Bristowe went on to win "Dancing With the Stars" and the mirror ball trophy.

Lauren Alaina had four damaged ribs as a result of DWTS

Some injuries are easier to conceal than others, and for country singer Lauren Alaina, her time on "Dancing With the Stars" was marked by not one, not two, not three, but four simultaneous injuries. As noted by People, Alaina had just performed a powerful Argentine tango when storied judge Carrie Ann Inaba commented on Alaina's apparent core strength. But it wasn't until after her performance that Alaina told then-host Erin Andrews that she had "four hurt ribs" and that she'd been competing through the pain. 


"When [Inaba] said my core looked strong I looked straight at Gleb [Savchenko] because all I have been trying to do is pretend my ribs aren't broken this whole competition," Alaina said. "I fractured the one on the left the first week of the show and I haven't had these X-rayed, but they don't feel great." Alaina's pro dance partner, Savchenko, sang her praises and said just how "strong" she'd been throughout the entire competition, but we're the first to admit that dancing through four damaged ribs sounds less than ideal. "I'm so proud that she got through it," Savchenko said of Alaina's performance. We're just hoping that she got some rest.

NFL star Ray Lewis was forced out of the competition due to a serious foot injury

It's always fun to watch athletes compete on "Dancing With the Stars," including NFL icon Ray Lewis. But his time on the show was unfortunately cut short, as he tore three tendons in his foot during practice. After the incident, he told People that he had "noticed a lot of little changes" in his foot after the first week of dancing, and the injury ultimately forced him out of the competition. 


"We just kept pushing through," Lewis said of his experience with pro dance partner Cheryl Burke. "I'd see Ray with his foot in a garbage can full of ice," Burke said of her partner at the time, but icing only helped so much. "One day it was unbearable; it was shooting up my leg. I've lived with pain, but something's wrong. I went and saw the doctor and had an MRI," Lewis said. The football star revealed to People that he had been experiencing foot pain for eight years, but had never dealt with it. It was "Dancing With the Stars" that provided him with the push he needed to finally get his prolonged injury — aggravated by dance — taken care of, which he called a "silver lining."

Amy Purdy looked as though she'd have to pull out of the competition due to a devastating injury

Paralympian Amy Purdy defied the odds as a professional snowboarder, and when she took to the dance floor, everyone was in her corner. Purdy lost both of her legs from below the knees due to a battle with meningococcal meningitis (via her personal website). Despite the hurdles, Purdy found success as an athlete and as a dancer, as she was considered a frontrunner for much of her season of "Dancing With the Stars." 


But as noted by Us Weekly at the time, a horrific back injury almost stopped Purdy from defying the odds on the show. She was taken to the hospital as a result of her pain, and she later revealed via Twitter her less-than-ideal prognosis: "Looks like I have a rib out of place and my muscles are in spasm," she posted on April 29, 2014. "I am being very proactive in healing up so I can continue this journey." And proactive she was, because Purdy returned to the dance floor and was the runner-up of her season (she lost first place to Olympic ice dancer Meryl Davis and pro dance partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy).

Figure skating legend Dorothy Hamill had to leave the competition due to a pre-existing spine injury

It's always a treat to see Olympians take to the dance floor on "Dancing With the Stars." So many of us are used to seeing said athletes in incredibly tough competitions, so welcoming them to the greatest and most outlandish television ballroom competition is a welcomed experience. But Olympic figure skater Dorothy Hamill's turn on "Dancing With the Stars" came to a sad end, and she left the show before it even really got going. 


As noted by ABC News at the time, Hamill aggravated a pre-existing spinal injury as a result of figure skating, and at the recommendation of her spine surgeon, she left the show. She made the announcement at the closing of the show's first round of eliminations. Calling the nerve damage she was suffering from "irreparable," Hamill expressed how disappointed she was that she couldn't continue on the show. "I realized this isn't just a muscle thing," she said. "It's radiating down my leg and my foot and I have no stability in my ankle and I can't pull my toes back." Calling the show a "wonderful ride," Hamill said that her injury would've stopped her from fully committing to the competition.

Legendary Star Wars actor Billy Dee Williams bowed out of the show due to a chronic injury

Fans got a taste of the thrill when "Star Wars" legend Billy Dee Williams was set to chase the mirror ball trophy, but his time on the show was cut short due to a devastating back injury. Having suffered from chronic back pain, Williams told E! News at the time that his doctor had recommended his withdrawal from the competition. 


"I've had a wonderful, brilliant, fantastic blast of a time," Williams said and simultaneously shared with E! News how "tough" the decision was to bow out of the contest. "My back is killing me right now," Williams shared of his condition at the time, telling the outlet that while his doctor told him that the choice to continue on in the competition was ultimately up to him, staying and pushing his body to the limit wasn't a good call. "It's chronic, it's arthritic. I made a tough choice, but it was a choice I think I needed to make," he said. Despite his departure, he still had nothing but nice things to say about the show. "It was fantastic!" Williams said of his time on "Dancing With the Stars."


Victoria Arlen's frightening injury left viewers incredibly concerned

Victoria Arlen's decision to compete on "Dancing With the Stars" wasn't just exciting, it was awe-inspiring. The Paralympian was 11 years old when she was diagnosed with transverse myelitis and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, two conditions that left her in a vegetative state until she was 15 (via Arlen's website). When she made it onto the road to recovery, she had to relearn how to speak, eat, and move, as if everything in her body had to start over. Arlen's experiences, and her reliance on a wheelchair until 2016, made her 2017 debut on "Dancing With the Stars" that much more incredible. 


As noted by Entertainment Tonight, Arlen still couldn't feel her legs, but she was able to stand, dance, and perform at incredible levels. However, her fate on the show was hanging in the balance when the quarterfinals rolled around, as she suffered from a spasm in her ribs. "A spasm is just, like, the worst pain known to man. It's like an extreme form of paralysis," Arlen said. Shortly after her painful injury, Arlen and her dance partner, Val Chmerkovskiy, were eliminated from the competition in Week 9, as noted by ABC News.

Access Hollywood's Nancy O'Dell had to leave the competition due to a knee injury

Knee injuries can be extremely disruptive. That was the circumstance for "Access Hollywood" anchor Nancy O'Dell while competing on "Dancing With the Stars," and her injury ultimately resulted in her early withdrawal from the show. As noted by Today, O'Dell's injury wasn't as simple as a tweak in her muscle, either. She had torn her meniscus in not one, but two places and required surgery as a result. 


"Beyond disappointment doesn't even [begin] to describe how I feel about not being able to continue," she said. "But I have torn the meniscus in my knee in two places, which requires surgery. According to the doctor, one is a 'significant' tear and it will require my getting knee surgery within the next couple of weeks." When she announced her injury, which was confirmed by ABC, O'Dell said how "great" of an experience the show — which she had been a fan of since Season 1 — was for her and her partner, Tony Dovolani. "Although short, it was a great experience. I challenged myself to take [a] risk at doing something I had never done before!" she said.

Olympian Misty May-Treanor had surgery as a result of her DWTS injury

You'd think that when Olympians take to the ballroom, their athleticism and experience in dealing with sports injuries would only help them survive "Dancing With the Stars." But for Olympic volleyball player Misty May-Treanor, that was certainly not the case, and her time on the show was devastatingly cut short due to a horrible injury. May-Treanor told People at the time that during a rehearsal with her dance partner, pro Maksim Chmerkovskiy, she suffered from an awful pain involving her Achilles tendon — a part of the body that you really don't want to mess with. 


"I ruptured my Achilles tendon and from that point on I knew I couldn't continue. I'm out and I'm really bummed," she said. "We don't know why these things happen. They could happen to anyone. I feel like I was only just beginning here." May-Treanor revealed that her injury required surgery and a nine-month long recovery, which we can only imagine was brutal for the athlete. But she kept her spirits high and even told People that she'd go back to the ballroom if given the opportunity to return in a future season.

Cheryl Burke and Cody Rigsby's positive COVID-19 diagnosis was disappointing

To say that COVID-19 has disrupted life is an understatement, and when it comes to the entertainment industry, practically the entire enterprise shut down. During the fall 2021 season of "Dancing With the Stars," the contestants were once again allowed to perform in front of a live studio audience, but soon into the competition, Peloton star Cody Rigsby and his dance partner, Cheryl Burke, both tested positive for COVID-19. While they didn't sustain injuries per se, the pair had to quarantine and take time away from the ballroom to recover. 


As noted by NBC News, Rigsby praised the COVID-19 vaccine on social media for helping him get through the illness rather unharmed, and the two even made a point of competing virtually to avoid dropping out of the competition. A week later, both Rigsby and Burke were back in the ballroom competing in person, and they both made a point to say how welcoming it was to be back on the "Dancing With the Stars" stage. "I feel great!" Rigsby said of his diagnosis and recovery, as noted by People. "I'm so glad to be done with quarantine, I'm glad to be back in this space."