Ballet is a unique sport in that it’s both artistic and highly challenging from a physical standpoint. While participating in ballet can provide many health benefits, it can also greatly increase the risk of a foot injury. Dr. Schoene, Dr. Bever, and their associates have the experience and education to help you prevent and treat foot injuries as a dancer.
Ballet dancers should take particular care of their feet for many reasons. One of the main reasons is that they need their feet to continue what’s both their career and their passion. The other reason is that frequently dancing, especially en pointe, puts them at risk for many conditions. Ensuring that you care for your feet consistently can help you feel better, which can help you dance better and potentially help prevent an injury or keep one from becoming persistent.
Ballet dancers can experience a myriad of injuries. These injuries can drastically range in severity from being something moderately uncomfortable for a couple of days to an injury that may prevent you from dancing short term or long term.
Examples of mild injuries relatively common in ballet dancers are corns and callouses. Corns and callouses are hardened areas of skin. They’re similar and caused by low-grade slow friction, (take out lines), repetitive movements, and rubbing from dance shoes or pointe shoes. This happens when the affected bone rubs up against the skin within the shoe or against the ground. These are generally not painful and can be treated at home but left untreated and trimmed they can become very painful and can actually cause the skin to open and become an ulcer or open wound.
Blisters are also common in all types of dancers. These come from high-grade friction which is more vigorous and can cause the skin to lift and fill with fluids. This is because of repeated pressure on the skin from the shoes rubbing against the bone or against the floor typically called a “Floor Burn”. Usually, if people feel their skin becoming irritated from a particular movement or activity, they take a break. However, ballet dancers will likely have to continue past that point, which leads to skin breaking. These are especially common in high-performance times when there’s less time in between for recovery. Flooring can be a big factor for blisters or floor burns when dancers are barefoot.
Bunions are caused by over-pronation or too much “rolling in”. The first metatarsal will start to slowly drift apart from the 2nd Metatarsal, creating an angulation of the first toe towards the 2nd toe. The side of the first metatarsal head will protrude outwards and make the width of the forefoot wider. These can be painful if shoes are too tight, or the pointe shoe is improperly fitted. Over turnout of the foot will promote bunions to become worse over time.
Problems with the toenail are prevalent in ballet dancers, especially when they’re frequently en pointe. This is because pointe shoes force the wearer to bear their entire weight on the tip of their toes. Toenail injuries can include breakage, blackening, or ingrown toenails. Nails should be kept short and neatly trimmed and the box of the pointe shoe should always be properly fitted for the shape of the dancer’s foot.
Many other injuries and conditions occur in dancers’ feet. Strains of muscles and the plantar fascia which is the thick band of tissue under the arch. Sprains of the ankle ligaments when a dancer rolls their foot, can cause pain, swelling, and can have an involved recovery. Metatarsal pain or Neuromas can occur at the ball of the foot and can be treated easily, but don’t let the pain persist, as the tissues in that area can become chronically injured which is more difficult to treat.
How Can Dancers Take Care of Their Feet?
The best way for ballet dancers to take care of their feet is for them to prevent injury from ever happening. There are several ways that dancers can help reduce the risk of injury. However, if you’re ever in doubt, our team at Gurnee Podiatry & Sports Medicine Associates can assist you in making a care plan for your feet. We have years of experience in caring for the feet of ballet dancers. We’ll consider the type and frequency of dancing when making your personalized plan.
Cuts, scrapes, and other open injuries will need to be addressed immediately because they can become infected. Taking care of these may be as simple as washing and bandaging them. You can help prevent these injuries by wearing properly fitting shoes and using tape and Band-Aids. Corns and callouses can usually be avoided using that tip as well. However, if they do develop, you can address them by soaking them and using pumice to diminish their size.
Soaking and washing your feet frequently helps reduce pain and prevent infection. Another aspect of avoiding corns and infection is caring for your shoes. Wearing the same shoes for hours daily can cause them to become damp. Damp environments are just the place for bacteria or fungus to grow, which is worse for your feet. Try to air out your shoes or have several pairs so that they can get a break, too.
Another thing to consider is getting the alignment of your feet evaluated by Dr. Schoene and Dr. Bever. It is important to understand how your feet work and if they are overly flat or pronated ( rolling inward). Overly flat or pronated feet can be a big reason for the development of bunions, hammertoes, or other foot conditions.
Some dancers should be in custom orthotics which help your feet line up properly while in street shoes. Not only does this help keep them healthy and under less stress, but when you start dancing for the day the foot has been corrected and won’t be fatigued. You’ll want to wear shoes that keep your foot in the correct position. We recommend that ballet dancers always wear supportive footwear especially when there is an injury. Wearing less supportive shoes or flip flops when the foot is injured is not advisable as supportive shoes help speed up the healing of the injury or condition.
Whether it’s your daily shoes or pointe shoes, it’s critical that the feet are well aligned either with in-shoe orthotics or with perfect technique. Visit Dr. Schoene or Dr. Bever to have an evaluation at the office where we can do a full dancer screen, including a foot alignment evaluation with special measurements and a gait exam. This will tell us everything we need to know about your alignment during various movements.
If it is determined that you should have a pair of orthotics then we’ll take impressions and make custom orthotics that fit your exact needs. This prevents you from developing issues and even corrects existing issues that you’re experiencing. This must be done sooner rather than later because if your foot is in the wrong position for too long, it can become difficult to correct. It’s one of the most important things that you can do to take care of your feet as a dancer.
Whether you’re experiencing issues with your feet or trying to take care of them to avoid future issues, we can help you develop a care plan. We’d love to see you at Gurnee Podiatry & Sports Medicine Assoc.