Ballet can cause foot pain, injury, and in some cases, even foot damage for dancers. This mostly occurs in dancers practicing the pointe technique and dancing in pointe shoes.
Ballet dancers not on pointe can also experience foot, shin, and ankle pain. If untreated, this can lead to an injury and even long-term foot damage.
Read on to learn about how ballet dancing affects your feet, the most common foot injuries, and what types of feet are more prone to injury.
The pointe technique is where a ballet dancer’s feet are completely extended and supporting all of their body weight as they move.
This is a classical ballet technique that may be the most compromising form of dance for the feet. This is due to the difficulty of the skill and the impact it has on the feet and body.
Classical ballet dancers wear pointe shoes. The tips of these shoes are made from layers of fabric that are densely packed, along with cardboard or hardened paper. This makes the shoes sturdy enough to support a dancer’s body weight.
The other parts of the shoe are made from satin, leather, and cotton. Each pair of pointe shoes is custom fit to a dancer’s feet. Dancers may place lamb’s wool or another soft material in the shoe, and tape around their feet, too. This may help make the shoes feel more comfortable as they dance.
Dancing on pointe
Dancers typically dance for a number of years before advancing to pointe shoes. By that time, they’ve strengthened and developed their legs, feet, and ankles, as well as their balance and body alignment.
For most girls, the transition to pointe shoes usually happens between ages 11 and 13. Foot bones begin to harden between the ages of 8 and 14, so pointe work isn’t usually begun until feet have “ossified” or hardened.
Male ballet dancers typically don’t dance on pointe. They do more lifting and jumping. This can also lead to foot issues such as Achilles tendonitis, shin splints, and sprained ankles.
Common dancing injuries to the feet include:
- Blisters and calluses. These are common when dancing in pointe shoes that haven’t been broken in yet or aren’t properly fitted, or from movement and friction between toes.
- Ingrown toenails. Another common dancing injury, this occurs when the corner or edge of the nail grows into surrounding skin.
- Black or broken nails. This is usually the result of repeated impact, blisters, or overuse.
- Sprained ankles. Ankle sprains are common in dancers from overworking the lateral side of the ankle for multiple hours per day.
- Bunions. These form as a result of toes being squished together and tension on the big toe joint.
- Stress fractures. These tiny cracks in bones are due to overuse, and may feel worse when jumping or turning.
- Dancer’s heel. Also known as posterior impingement syndrome, this injury is sometimes called “dancer’s ankle” because it affects the rear of the ankle.
- Morton’s neuroma. This pinched nerve causes pain between the toes and the ball of the foot.
- Plantar fasciitis. This is an inflammation of the tissue that extends from the heels to the toes.
- Metatarsalgia. This painful inflammation in the ball of the foot is due to overuse.
- Hallux rigidus. This injury affects the joint at the base of the big toe, eventually making it hard to move the toe.
- Achilles tendonitis. Caused by overuse of the Achilles tendon, this injury can usually can be treated at home, but in serious cases the Achilles can tear and require surgery.
Dancing on pointe can cause a number of injuries to the shins, ankles, and feet. If left untreated, certain injuries could eventually lead to permanent damage. These risks are usually only a problem for professional dancers who need to stay on pointe for extended periods of time.
Some examples of injuries that may lead to damage if left untreated include:
- sesamoiditis, which is chronic inflammation and overuse of the bones of the ball of the foot beneath the big toe joint (surgery may be required if untreated)
- corns that become ulcers
- nails that thicken and grow hard skin underneath
- hammer toes
- heel spurs
Due to the competitive nature of ballet and the fact that roles in ballet performances are hard-won, dancers may feel they can’t take time off due to an injury. However, dancing on an already injured foot can lead to permanent damage that may require surgery to correct.
If you suspect you have a foot injury, see a doctor. They may be able to treat your foot or make you more comfortable as you continue to dance.
The treatment for different foot injuries and pain depends on the cause and severity of your injury.
It’s important to work with a doctor or a podiatrist who specializes in working with dancers. They can help you create a treatment plan and recommend medication, physical therapy, or even surgery if necessary.
While there’s no “ideal” foot structure for ballet, some are better suited to dancing on pointe. Certain foot structures may be less prone to injuries, while other may be more prone to injury.
|Foot structures less prone to injury||Foot structures more prone to injury|
|having toes of nearly equal length provide a squared-off platform to stand on pointe||having a long big toe that needs to support all body weight on pointe|
|high instep||having a longer second toe that needs to support all body weight on pointe|
|flexible ankles allow a dancer to form a direct line between the knee and toe on pointe||inflexible ankles|
|high arch||low instep|
The competitive nature of ballet can make it difficult to take time off to heal or recover from an injury. Unfortunately, continuing to dance on an injured foot can lead to more pain and in some cases, even permanent damage.
It’s important to see a doctor or a podiatrist if you have a foot injury. Look for someone who specializes in working with dancers. They can create a treatment plan so you can stay healthy and strong throughout your dance career.