Putting Your Best Foot Forward?: A Deep Dive Into Common Dance Injuries in the Foot and Ankle

If you’re a dancer, odds are you’re well aware of the many common dance injuries that may befall you during your career. 

Maybe you experienced them first hand or maybe you witnessed a peer struggle through recovery from one. 

Either way, you know about them because….well, because common dance injuries are exactly that, common. 

There is a a long standing stigma in the dance world about injuries that seems to imply fault, weakness, or replaceability if you sustain an injury. 

But most common dance injuries arise due to overuse and overtraining. In an industry that applauds “toughness” and a “push-through-it” mentality, it seems downright silly that injuries would be viewed this way.

Nevertheless, they are. 

My friend once performed so long and so hard that she bled through her pointe shoes. There was actual blood stainds seeping through her toe box. When she finished everyone cheered, remarking how strong she was to finish the number despite her pain!

When my other friend sprained her ankle by landing a jump incorrectly in petite allegro, we were given a lecture on the importance of good technique, attention to detail, and ankle strengthening exercises. As if this injury was the fault of the dancer rather than a result of exhaustion from a 6 hour rehearsal day after a 5 class week. 

The point is, we are here to de-stigmatize common dance injuries and offer some insight into the prevention and treatment of each. However, seeing a trusted physical therapist is recommended for aide in diagnosis and recovery from any common dance injury. 

 

Plantar Fasciitis:

Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common dance injuries. Planter Fasciitis is an overuse injury that causes intense pain in the heel. 

We have talked a lot about plantar fasciits recently because it plagues so many dancers that Dance Magazine wrote about it and Coach Amber was featured giving advice for P.F. sufferers!

The main way to prevent plantar fasciitis is to practice regular foot stretches, strengthening exercises, and rolling out/massaging the feet. Some of the best preventative exercises are also the treatment for plantar fasciitis! You can check them out here: 9 Need to Know Plantar Fasciitis Exercises for Dancers

If you are currently suffering from plantar fasciitis there are a number of things you should avoid doing to prevent your injury from worsening. 

Avoid wearing high heels, yes, even in class. I promise, your instructors and choreographers will gladly let you take a heels break for a week or two if it means getting you back in them long term!

Another important thing is to not push through the pain. I know as dancers there’s this mindset that, if we sit out someone will replace us. But that’s not always true. And even if it is, pushing through pain and causing your injury to worsen is not worth this one class, audition, or gig. 

Don’t limit your future because you’re afraid of losing what you have now.

 

Achilles Tendonitis:

Achilles tendonitis is another common dance injury caused by overuse! This overuse injury affects the achilles tendon which attaches your calf muscle to your heel. 

This is most often caused by overtraining during a focused amount of time. This can look like returning to dance after a long rest period, tight or inflexible caves, or dancing on a non-sprung floor. 

Usually you can identify achilles tendonitis from other common dance injuries by a tenderness in the morning about half an inch above the heel bone, stiffness that fades after warm up, or mild-moderate pain after dancing. 

If left unchecked achilles tendonitis can worsen and eventually lead to an achilles rupture. 

So, the sooner you can start an at home regimen to relieve you of your A.T. pain, the better. 

If your tendonitis has progressed to the point that you don’t have any pain free activities, rest and ice the tendon/lower calf immediately. 

Active stretching of the achilles tendon should be integrated into your routine, but be careful! Don’t stretch your achilles beyond the point of comfort as this can make the tendonitis worse. Keep the stretch within the 2-3 range on the pain/discomfort scale. 

 

Stress Fractures:

The human foot is comprised of 33 joints and 26 bones. These joints and bones work together to not only move your foot but help your feet and ankles absorb impact from jumps and leaps!

If the intrinsic muscles in between those joints and bones are overworked or not strong enough, the repetitive force of jumping can cause stress fractures. 

Stress fracture pain might start out mildly and increase in pain as time goes on. You might also see some swelling around the area, even if rest brings relief from the pain.

See a doctor if you suspect a stress fracture because if a fracture heals improperly it can cause more permanent problems. 

Otherwise, eating a well balanced, nutrient dense diet is one of the best ways to prevent a stress fracture. Not sure what that looks like? Give this article a read. 

Also, pairing your high impact sport (dance) with low impact cross-training like weightlifting or reformer pilates reduces your risk of stress fractures. 

 

 

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Bunions: 

Many people think that bunions are among the common dance injuries because of pointe shoes. But in actuality, bunions in dancers are often a result of turning out farther than your muscles can maintain. 

Turning out too far causes your knee to roll inward, rather than staying in alignment with your ankle. Such a position causes the foot to over-pronate (roll in) putting pressure on that toe joint. 

To prevent bunions, make sure you are only working within the turnout you can maintain. I promise, your turnout will improve over time. Cheating will only cause problems, and bunions only cause pain. 

Treatment for bunions are orthotics, nighttime splints, and physical therapy exercises. But, if bunions go too far without attention, they can require surgery!

 

Ankle Sprains:

Ankle accidents constitute 20 to 25% of all accidents sustained by dancers.

And that makes sense because spraining your ankle as a dancer *almost* seems like a right of passage. Lack of focus, loss of balance, and working too closely to the limits of your strength are the major causes of sprained ankles. 

Knowing dancers, I would be willing to bet that most ankle sprains are not because dancers are being careless, but rather because they are pushing themselves a bit farther than they are ready to go. 

Now, I’m not telling you not to take big swings. But I am telling you to pay close attention to your body when learning new skills or running choreo over and over again. 

If you’re starting to feel dangerously fatigued, maybe mark the jumps. 

OR

If marking is not an option, dial in your focus. When we are fatigued it’s very easy to cut corners mentally and physically, this is when injury occurs. 

If you are too tired to focus, you are too tired to do the trick. Period. 

 

Ankle Impingement: 

Posterior ankle impingement is a pain that occurs in the heel and achilles tendon. This pain is most acutely felt when on rélévé or pointing your foot. It occurs when boney build-up on the heel bone (formed from thousands of hours in this position) compresses the soft tissue in the back of the ankle. 

Anterior ankle impingement occurs where the shinbone meets the ankle (talus). Years of pliés, jump landings, and more cause a similar boney build-up in the front of the ankle causing compression in the tissues there. 

Both of these issues can cause swelling as well as pain. 

Anti-inflammatory medications and ice can help relieve the inflammation. In extreme cases podiatrists may recommend surgery- though physical therapy and anti-inflammatory regimens can usually prevent this!

 

Moral of the Story?

If you’re a dancer, having a physical therapist or doctor who understands what you do and how you move is vital.  (For more information about how to choose a PT, be sure to tune into the blog next month!) 

Knowing that the amount of hours we spend training can lead to overuse injuries is also important. According to this study, injury prevention tactics should start much younger in dancers than it does currently. 

That way, we are not only protecting the next generation of dancers from injury, but we’re teaching them how to care for their bodies well. 

Injury prevention exercises often don’t take a lot of work, but can have massive benefits for the lives of dancers. 

And don’t worry, even if you didn’t start young, you aren’t disqualified from starting today!

If you’re thinking, “I don’t know how to cross-train” or “I don’t know what fueling my body as a professional dancer looks like.” 

We’ve got you covered. From Body Mechanics to The Embodied Artist, the free resources on social media, our email newsletter, and this blog, chances are we can help you. 

 

So, want to reach out? Shoot us an email at dancerswholift@gmail.com, or DM us @dancerswholift on instagram. We’d love to help you in your injury prevention journey!

 

 

Want more info from Dancers Who Lift? Give these blogs a read:  Dancers Who Lift: More Than Just Resistance Training for Dancers, Injury Recovery 101: The Do’s and Don’ts for Getting Back on the Stage Faster, The Stair Down: An Adjustable Stair Workout

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