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Common Foot Problems in Ballet

From blisters to bruises to broken nails, the list of foot problems faced by the typical ballet dancer could paper the walls of Lincoln Center. But as common as these ailments are, many dancers don’t know how to treat them other than to put on a Band-Aid, suck it up and continue dancing through the pain.

Before you attempt to “cure” your blister by dancing the Rose Adagio, check out these tips on quick fixes for common ballet foot problems that you can do at home to make your next rehearsal pain free! (Well, at least your feet will feel better.)

Blisters

The cause: Insufficient padding or protection in your pointe shoes. Or the shoe may rub against the feet due to either the dancer’s hammer toes or a shoe profile that is a bit too low.

Short term help: Protect blisters from becoming irritated by covering them with a second skin burn pad. Burn pads are designed to soothe and cool inflamed skin, easing the angry pain of blisters. Once you are done dancing, disinfect the blister with rubbing alcohol, but don’t cover it. Leaving it open and un-bandaged will allow it to dry out and heal faster.

As soon as your blister has closed, apply a small daub of baby orajel to it. This will numb any lingering irritation and allow you to dance without wincing.

Long term help: If you get blisters constantly, and they never seem to heal, you need to look at the fit of your shoes and your style of padding. Talk to your local fitter about the problem; (s)he may be able to recommend a better pointe shoe for you.

At the very least, switching your padding to protect your blistered areas can ease the discomfort till you can find your perfect shoe.

Bruised & Broken Nails

The cause: Damages toenails are usually caused by shoes that are either too wide, too square, or both. If the shoe is not aligned properly with your foot, the big toes may slip and pound the inside while you dance en pointe. Bruised or broken nails can also be caused by nails that are left too long.

Short Term Help: Protected ouch-ridden toenails by wrapping self-adhesive, mesh medical tape around the nail area during class. This will give your toe extra padding and prevent the nail from sustaining even more damage.

Long Term Help: Make sure your pointe shoes fit as well as possible. If you are having issues, seek out the nearest qualified fitter to be refit. A more tapered shoe or one with a narrower width may solve the problem.

Outside of class, wear roomy street shoes that let your toenails breathe and grow back healthy.

Bunions

The cause: A bunion is a deformity of the bone that causes the big toe to lean in towards the other toes. Pinky toes can also have this irregularity, referred to as bunionettes or tailor’s bunions. Both cases are often genetic, but exacerbated by shoes that are too narrow in the box.

Bunionettes are also known as Tailor’s Bunions due to their common occurrence in tailors, who frequently sit cross-legged, with their weight on the outside of the foot.

Short Term Help: Soothe painful bunion pain by taking a cotton ball and swiping a small amount of rubbing alcohol where the bunion hits on the box of new pointe shoes. Softening the canvas layers will give you a bit more room to breathe and cause less pressure on your bone.

Long Term Help: Bunions are often genetic, which makes them difficult to cure or prevent completely. However, if your bunion(s) continue or get worse, see a podiatrist. They can help you find better fitting pointe or street shoes, or suggest gel spacers to help correct the alignment of your toes in the long term.

Hammer Toes

The cause:Hammer toes, or toes with a sharply bent middle digit, are frequently caused by genetics rather than ballet. However, in some cases a shoe with a too-low profile or too tight box can exacerbate this typically mild problem.

Short Term Help:Wrap self-adhesive, gauze medical tape around the middle digit of your hammer toe and the toe next to it. By anchoring the toe to a straighter one you’ll correct its alignment while also preventing it from rubbing on the top of the box.

Long Term Help:If your hammer toe becomes more rigid and painful over time, talk first to your pointe shoe fitter to see if the profile of your shoe is making the problem worse. If it continues, see a podiatrist. He or she may recommend alternate methods of alignment correction, such as a miniature toe splint or specially designed street shoes.

When in Doubt, Sit Out

Foot problems may be common occurrences in ballet, but that is no reason to ignore the warning signs of a more severe injury. If your feet begin to break down and become increasingly painful, talk to your instructor and sit out until the soreness subsides or the injury is fully healed.

Remember, better safe than sorry!

Any ballet dancer knows that foot problems are never far out of sight. Learn about common foot issues from blisters to bunions and how to combat them with this guide!
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