Treatments for Common Ballet Foot Problems

Ballet is one of the most graceful art forms in Western culture, but the effect it has on your feet is anything but beautiful. When you regularly carry your body weight on just your big toes, you’re bound to have foot problems.


Before you start the ballet journey, prepare yourself by learning about the most common foot ailments for professional ballet dancers.


Dancer’s Fracture

Most dancers land on the wrong parts of their feet occasionally after big jumps. If you land on the outside of your foot, you may get an injury commonly called a dancer’s fracture: damage to the fifth metatarsal bone.


The symptoms of dancer’s fracture include sharp pain, swelling, and bruising of the foot. In the worst cases, the bones in your foot might be knocked out of alignment. If this happens, you should realign the bones with your hands and seek medical attention.


As you recover from this condition, apply ice frequently and keep your foot elevated. Most important, avoid dancing for at least six weeks.


Bunions

Before you dance in pointe shoes, you may associate bunions only with the elderly and overworked. But ballet dancers are especially susceptible to bunions because their feet are so often squeezed into pointed shoes.


Bunions are largely genetic problems that only get worse when your big toe pushes against the other toes, permanently angling inward and leaving the joint at the base of the toe jutting out. Though bunions don’t require the same immediate medical attention as dancer’s fractures, they can still cause significant damage over time. Your smaller toes can develop corns, ingrown nails, or hammertoes, and if the condition gets worse, exercising and even walking can become painful and difficult.


If you start treating bunions early, you may be able to compensate for them through toe spaces, strengthening exercises, and proper orthopedic treatment. If bunions go untreated, though, you may need to undergo surgery to offset the damage. The earlier bunions are treated, the greater chance you have of advancing further in ballet.


Sesamoiditis

When you dance in demi-pointe position, you raise your heels off the ground, carry your weight on completely horizontal toes, and put stress on your sesamoids--two small bones on the bottom of your feet. The sesamoids help support the tendons that lead to your big toes.


Sesamoiditis occurs when the tendons near the sesamoids get inflamed, causing pain in the ball of your foot. If you think you have sesamoiditis, consult a physician or a physical therapist to design a treatment plan. You may need to wear padding on your feet or tape your big toe so it always points slightly downward. You may need to avoid dancing until the pain dissipates.


Hammertoes

For most people, hammertoe is a largely genetic condition in which toes are curled permanently instead of extending straight out from the foot. But ballet dancers are at a higher risk for hammertoe when they wear pointe shoes that don’t fit properly.


Hammertoe cannot be reversed, so talk with fitting professionals to get pointe shoes customized for your feet. If you have started to develop hammertoe, add enough padding to your shoes to prevent corns from developing.


Neuromas

Poor-fitting shoes can also harm the nerves on the top of your feet. If your shoes are too tight or narrow, you may notice pain between your second and third toes. This condition, called neuroma, usually means that your nerves have swollen because they have been too tightly constricted. In some cases, neuroma can lead to scar tissue over the nerve area.


To treat neuromas, first find a better-fitting shoe, or switch to pointe shoes that end in a square instead of a tapered toe.


Bruised Nails

Ballet dancers should always keep their toe nails trimmed to the edge of the toe. If not, as you dance on point, your toe nails can press against the floor as you dance, causing blood clots to form under your nails. If left untreated, these clots can lead to the nail falling off.


If you notice bruising under your nails, apply rubbing alcohol daily to prevent infection. You may need to see a doctor to puncture and drain the clots under your nails. Once the clots are drained, you can secure the nail to your toe with medical adhesive. Avoid pointe dancing for at least a few days as your nail heals more completely - and always clip your toenails from then on.


Once you commit to ballet dancing, you commit to taking special care of your feet. Your art relies on them, and you’ll be using them for long after you stop dancing. To prevent your feet from injuries, consult with a podiatrist before you progress too far in ballet. Your podiatrist will help you prevent future injuries through a training plan and then treatment options when you need them.


With the right preparation, you can dance beautifully while keeping your feet healthy.