The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Pointe Blank: Targeting Foot Trauma in Ballet Dancers

Posted by on Thursday, January 26th, 2012

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A music box with a twirling ballerina sits on the dresser of a young girl. She dreams of wearing pink satin pointe shoes. If she has the grace, athletic ability, and talent, those pointe shoes will lead her in the direction of the corps de ballet of a major ballet company. One day, if she is extraordinary, she may be dancing to the strains of Tchaikovsky, as the principal dancer in Swan Lake. She will discover that beneath those glamorous satin shoes, it is not a pretty picture…

Starting en pointe too early can lead to foot deformities. The bones in the feet are still growing before puberty. By 12 years of age, most girls are ready to stand on their toes, after approval from a Podiatrist. We only see the beauty of the dance. Ballet dancers suffer for their art, and their feet take the most abuse. Injuries and conditions such as these, are common:

  • Corns, which can ulcerate
  • Calluses
  • Thickening or ingrown toenails, torn or ripped off toenails
  • Fungal infections
  • Sprains, tendonitis and fractures<
  • Blisters
  • Bunions
  • Bursitis
  • Cuts and bruises
  • (Plantar fasciitis) Dancer’s heel
  • Hallux limitus and rigidus, affecting the toe joints and movement
  • Hammer toes

Like other athletes, classical ballet dancers have a “best-before” date stamped on their careers. Most retire before 40 years of age. Rudolph Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn are one exception; Fonteyn was 69 and Nureyev 50 years of age, when they performed their last dance together in 1988.

The legacy of the dance is lingering pain, arthritis and other foot problems. Ballet is a tough mistress. When dancers are not dancing, they are caring for their shoes and feet.

Well fitted pointe shoes are a great preventative measure, but injuries can occur anytime. Ballerinas pad their pointe shoes with lamb’s wool, gel or foam toe pads. They tape their toes with sports tape. This helps prevent blisters. Dancers keep their toenails cut to the quick, to prevent tears and ingrown nails. Corns, tough skin, and calluses are a normal condition and the hardened skin is less likely to bruise and bleed.  Ankle sprains are usually treated by RICE – rest, ice,compression, elevation.

Male dancers, such as Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rudolf Nureyev, are not immune from foot problems. While men don’t usually dance en pointe, they put more weight and stress on their feet, jumping, and lifting ballerinas.

Dancers often have to undergo surgery to repair fractures, correct bunions, and arthritic joint conditions such as Hallux Limitus.

Ballet dancers form a special bond with their Podiatrists. They work together so that we can enjoy the art of Ballet.  A Podiatrist specializing in sports and dance medicine, such as the doctors at the The Center For Podiatric Care And Sports Medicine, treat dancers during and after their career, to help them function and remain free of pain.

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.