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Common Dance Injuries

Ballet and Dance, although graceful and majestic, is notorious for how tough it can be on the body. Dancers put in hours of work in training. Learning routines. Practicing lifts. All for the end of year concert or to triumph over other teams at upcoming competitions. No matter the style of dance, foot and ankle injuries are extremely common. Here is a helpful guide on the 3 most common foot injuries we see in dancers (of all ages). We have also put together a few sneaky tips on how to avoid injury.

Common Dance Injuries we see as Podiatrists

Intermetatarsal bursitis/neuroma

Intermetatarsal bursitis is foot injury where the fluid-filled sacs (bursa) between the bones in the ball of the foot become inflamed. The bursae are there to protect the bones from pressure and stop them from grinding against each other. If there is a lot of compression of the forefoot (ie. in tight dance shoes) and/or a lot of pressure placed upon it (ie. demi-pointe – where all your weight is on your forefoot), then they can get inflamed and cause pain.

An intermetatarsal neuroma occurs when the pressure on the nerve that runs between bones in the ball of the foot. A neuroma can occur from an external force (i.e. tight footwear) or potentially from an inflamed bursa. Thickening and inflammation of the nerve causes pain which refers down to the toes. Consequently, with significant load, bursitis and a neuroma can occur at the same time. This is known as an intermetatarsal bursal neuroma complex.

Treatment can require different padding techniques to open the joint space and take pressure off the painful area. Oral anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen can also help to reduce the inflammation of the bursa or neuroma. If severe, a break from dancing can be helpful. Changing into a wider shoe can also be effective in reducing the pressure on the forefoot. Orthotics can help with redistributing pressure evenly across the foot and relieving the sore spot.

If these conservative measures do not alleviate the pain, injection therapies can be considered. A coritsone injection can be useful to reduce inflammation. Shockwave therapy can help with healing stimulation. Finally, surgery may be considered as a last resort in chronic cases.

Stress fractures

A stress fracture is micro fracture that occurs due to repetitive force on a bone. Stress fractures can be quite prevalent in dancers as they perform repetitive movements and put a lot of stress through the bones in their feet during class and practice. Following sudden increases in activity, such as returning to dance after the school holiday, these type of injuries are more common. If a stress fracture is confirmed, it requires ceasing activity (ie. dancing) and for healing to occur may require you to be non-weight bearing. Depending on the severity and the location of the fracture, offloading can be in the form of a CAM boot and may require aids such as crutches to promote healing.

Lateral ankle sprain

Lateral ankle sprains commonly happen when we roll our ankle when landing in an unstable position. In ballet these injuries are most common in dancers who go en pointe or landing from a sauté or jeté. Ankle sprains can sometimes involve swelling of the soft tissues and bruising of the ligaments and tendons on the outside of your ankle. In severe sprains an ankle fracture may occur causing increased pain and more comprehensive treatment.

Although, ankle sprains can occur during any style of dance or landing from a leap, going en pointe increases your risk of an ankle sprain. Consequently, if you are not strong enough in your ankles it is more difficult to maintain balance and stability and there is a higher risk of an ankle sprain.

The rehabilitation program and duration of rehab from a lateral ankle sprain depends on its severity. Initially, involves offloading and reducing inflammation. Followed by strengthening the muscles around the ankle so they are able to combat the increase in load. It is important that this injury is rehabilitated properly to decrease the likelihood of re-injury. If you are unlucky and there is a confirmed fracture, then similar to a stress fracture, a CAM boot may be required for offloading until healing has taken place.

Other common dance injuries

There are a few more injuries that are quite common in dancers including Achilles tendinopathy, plantar fasciitis, shin splints, posterior ankle impingement (commonly known as ‘dancers heel’), bunions and even ingrown toenails. Most of these are related to the exceptional amount of force that goes through a dancer’s body, particularly their feet on a daily basis. Dancing through the pain seems the ‘accepted’ method of dealing with pain in the dance world. Nevertheless, this will only make your injury worse and increase the recovery time.

How to prevent injury?

The best way to prevent these injuries is to make sure you have a good warm up, including self massage and stretching. Ensure you are using the correct technique and regularly strengthening your entire lower leg not just your ankles. This include strengthening glutes, hamstrings and quads so that they have the capacity to absorb the load and forces placed on the entire body.

If you are a dancer reading this and you have pain, please do not ignore it. Pain and discomfort is your body’s way of telling you that there is something wrong. It is important you seek professional help before your dance injury worsens and you are completely off your feet.

No matter the style of dance, if you are concerned about your strength, have suffered these sorts of injuries before or if you are a ballet dancer about to go en pointe then you must book in for a dance assessment. If you want to find our more about what a dance assessment involves, read this blog.

Sarah Guiney

Expert in Dance, Podiatrist

To make an appointment and book your child in for a pre-pointe ballet assessment with our dance expert Sarah, please phone 5141 6147

Click HERE to book a Dance Assessment online.