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General, How To...

Common Foot and Ankle Injuries for Dancers

A dancer’s most important asset is his or her feet. Following are some common foot injuries and how to care for them.

Sprained Ankles

A trip, a mis-step, or possibly an old injury that has gone untreated can cause an ankle sprain, as well as constant use of the feet without enough rest, and wearing restrictive shoes in or out of rehearsals. Dancers should watch for sharp pain, swelling, and impaired range of motion. In treating an ankle sprain, a doctor may prescribe crutches or braces to stabilize the ankle. Dancers should take time for ankle strengthening exercises to get back into shape after a sprain.

Stress Fractures

Jumping and stomping in shoes without enough shock absorption, or especially in bare feet, can cause stress fractures in the feet. Over time, the muscles in the feet will absorb the vibrations from the floor, and eventually the bones will begin to absorb it. Too much strain will cause a stress fracture in the foot. Dancers should be aware of any constant pain that worsens when weight is placed on the foot, as well as swelling and tenderness to the touch.

A fracture can be diagnosed with an X-ray or MRI. Resting and applying ice to the foot will help to ease the pain, and a doctor may prescribe a walking boot or crutches. Dancers should follow their doctor’s orders in regards to the waiting and healing period before dancing again.

Tendonitis

Like a stress fracture, tendonitis is caused by repetitive stress to the foot. Dancers should look for continuous soreness around the ankle, or a dull pain in the heel. When dancers increase their work load, especially to prepare for a competition or performance, their muscles and tendons may not be strong enough.

Dancers should try to build up gradually to a full schedule, to prevent tendonitis from forming. Rest and ice, stretching and strengthing the feet and ankles, and taping during class can also help to prevent or alleviate tendonitis. Dancers should always be sure to warm up before class or performance, to include stretching the feet and ankles.

Dance-related injuries can hinder growth, and can sideline a dancer for an entire season. Dancers should pay attention to any pain or swelling in their feet or ankles, and should see a doctor immediately if any of the signs above appear.

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About Terry

Terry Finch is a dance teacher and choreographer with an extensive training and teaching background that spans 26 years. Terry has held a variety of teaching positions, from assisting instructors at her dance studio, to teaching at summer performing arts camp, and leading college level master classes. She is currently in her fourth year as a dance teacher at a studio in central Pennsylvania.

6 Responses to “Common Foot and Ankle Injuries for Dancers”

  1. On August 4, 2011 at 4:05 pm P Brooks responded with... #

    Knee injuries are very prevalent, as well, and can be prevented/lessened by following the advice above. Flexible knee braces are very helpful in this instance.

    • On August 15, 2011 at 6:41 pm admin responded with... #

      Thanks for the additional suggestions!

    • On April 9, 2013 at 2:38 am shishi responded with... #

      Yes I am a 12 year old dancer in a company and I got anterior knee pain. I had to take 2 weeks off from it.

  2. On August 4, 2011 at 4:55 pm Annette responded with... #

    Can you comment on pointe developing bunions on young girls and women?

    • On August 15, 2011 at 6:35 pm admin responded with... #

      Hi Annette,

      Bunions are caused by several factors including but not limited to genetics, ill-fitting shoes, injury, and added stress to one area of the foot due to misalignment, specifically pronation or supination of the tarsus. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Bunions develop when the pressures of bearing and shifting your weight fall unevenly on the joints and tendons in your feet. This imbalance in pressure makes your big toe joint unstable, eventually molding the parts of the joint into a hard knob that juts out beyond the normal shape of your foot.”

      The book Dance Kinesiology by Sally Sevey Fitt states that the requirement for ballet dancers to turn out in class, whether in soft slippers or pointe shoes, creates a greater tendency for students to roll in on their feet and walk in a turned out position. This sometimes results in added pressure to the inside of the big toe, making it the last point of contact in locomotion. The body responds to the stress by building calcium deposits on the point of stress, resulting in a painful bunion.

      Students and teachers can work to avoid this undue stress by carefully monitoring the even placement of weight on the feet during ballet exercises, and proper turnout technique from the hip without forcing the feet into a position the hips can not support, causing the feet to roll in or out. It is also important to work in parallel positions so as not to develop an imbalance of rotator strength in the legs and hip.

      Once a ballet student is about to begin pointe work, there will be added stress to the feet, and it is very important to make sure the muscles of the feet, legs, and core are strong enough to hold the student in proper alignment. It is also very important that pointe shoes are professionally fit to ensure the shape of the box allows for proper placement of the toes. There are many pointe shoe accessories available that can help with proper placement of the toes in pointe shoes such as spacers that can be placed between the toes and reduce stress to any one area of the tarsus.

      There are many more resources and articles relating to this topic available on the Web, and if you have a specific concern, we always recommend you speak to your dance instructor and a physician for additional details related to your specific situation. Thanks for the great question!

      • On September 21, 2011 at 4:59 pm Tammy Lechner responded with... #

        Yoga toe spacers worn for 20 minutes after class or at home can help prevent bunion development and promote a healthy foot!

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