Sports & Exercise

Foot Care for Dancers – Painful Problems Caused by Dancing!

Your feet endure a lot of stress when you’re dancing, which is why proper foot care for dancers is so important. While aches and pains are normal, dancers are prone to severe foot injuries and conditions. And many of the issues associated with ballroom, ballet, Irish, and other popular types of dancing won’t be resolved until they’re medically treated.

The more you know about different foot conditions, the sooner you can identify and resolve them. It’s an old stereotype that dancers have to have sore feet all the time. Dancers with injured feet might be facing something more serious, and those problems must be corrected.

You shouldn’t ignore the fact that your feet hurt. Whether you have pain in the balls of your feet, your ankles, or even your heels, it could all be a sign of a medical issue that needs to be appropriately addressed.

Foot and nail conditions are commonplace among dancers. When you use your feet so much, these issues are inevitable. We’ll now take a look at common conditions that affect the feet of dancers and how to get much-needed relief from the soreness.

Conditions that Affect the Feet of Dancers

Almost anyone can get a foot condition or injury. But, dancers are more prone to these problems because they put their feet to work so often. The more you use your feet and put stress on them, the easier it can be to expose yourself to injury.

This guide will cover several common injuries and foot conditions that dancers face. When you’re more aware of the symptoms of these problems, you can treat them faster. Plus, we’ll offer some general care tips that you can use to keep your feet healthy and strong.

Don’t assume you have to just ‘deal’ with the pain in your feet constantly. If it’s something more serious, it needs to be resolved.

1) Getting Rid of Blisters

One of the main problems dancers face when breaking in new shoes is getting blisters. Ballroom dance shoes and ballet shoes are designed to be a little tight.

But they need to be able to stretch and conform to your feet. The more your heel rubs against the shoe, the easier it will be for a blister to form. Once it does, it can peel open and start to bleed.

Blisters might be small, but they can be extremely painful. Plus, if your blister opens up, you could put yourself at risk for infection. This is especially true if sweat or dirt from your feet/shoes gets into the open area.

To help prevent blistering, it’s important to make sure your shoes fit correctly. You might think walking around or dancing in your shoes is the only way to break them in, but there are other methods you can try that won’t immediately cause pain.

A straightforward method is to wear the shoes around your house for a while, with a pair of socks. The socks will give the shoes just enough ‘stretch’ so they won’t rub against your feet when you wear them later.

2) Conditions Due to Sweaty Feet

When you’re dancing, it’s normal to work up a sweat. For most people, that includes getting sweaty and smelly feet. Having tight dance shoes only adds to this problem. Unfortunately, several foot problems can occur when you’re dealing with sweaty feet.

First, sweaty feet cause your feet to move about in your shoes. This rubbing against the inside of the shoe can lead to blisters, calluses, or bunions. It also makes it easier to injure yourself when doing exercises. Sweaty shoes allow your feet to become slippery, and you may lose your balance within the shoe itself.

One of the risks of having sweaty feet is toenail fungus. It occurs when moisture gets trapped underneath the nail bed. One of the contributors is sweaty feet. Fungus multiplies in dark, warm, and moist footwear. What better place for it to grow than in a dancer’s shoes?

Toenail fungus can also be caused by trauma to the nails. If you’re continually banging your toes against the front of your shoe, you could be encouraging a toenail fungus to thrive. If you experience pain in the big toe regularly, keep track of what your toe looks like.

Toenail fungus is hard to get rid of once it’s fully developed. The best thing you can do is to keep track of what your toenails look like. A fungus usually starts as a small dark dot or yellowing in the center of the nail.

Recognizing the symptoms early can help you treat it faster. A topical antifungal treatment or cure for toenail fungus will be needed to get rid of it.

3) Hallux Rigidus

As a dancer, it’s important to know about some of the more severe foot conditions that can affect you. One of those conditions is Hallux Rigidus.

Hallux Rigidus is a condition that affects the joint of the big toe. It causes so much stiffness and pain in the big toe that it can eventually make it difficult to bend that toe. That’s where the condition acquires the name, ‘rigidus,’ as the toe becomes almost too rigid and stiff to move.

The big toe is the most critical. We use it when we walk, run, bend down, and even stand. But, for dancers, it’s an essential part of the body for fluid movement.

Unfortunately, Hallux Rigidus is a degenerative disease and considered to be a form of arthritis. There are a couple of different causes for the condition. In some cases, people are prone to it who may have some abnormalities with their foot, such as fallen arches.

But it also can occur in people who overuse their feet, like dancers. The general ‘wear and tear’ of using your feet often and putting stress on the big toe can cause the condition to develop.

Aside from pain in the big toe, some common symptoms include:

  • Difficulty being active (running, dancing, etc.)
  • Swelling around the joint
  • Issues wearing shoes
  • Dull pain in the hips or knees as you change the way you walk

The primary indicator is pain and stiffness in the big toe. Often, this will get worse or flare-up in cold weather. The sooner you notice these symptoms, the better. Even though it’s a degenerative condition, there are things you can do to slow down the progression.

In most cases, nonsurgical treatment can be a big help. Some treatment options may include:

  • Shoes with a larger toe box
  • Custom orthotic devices
  • Physical therapy
  • Anti-inflammatory medications

If the disease becomes severe, surgery may be needed to reduce the amount of pain you feel. There will always be a recovery period following surgery, but how long it takes depends on how much of an impact the disease has on your feet.

Even with surgery, there is no way to get rid of this disease. But, you can slow its progression significantly, and with the right treatment, you don’t have to deal with constant pain.

Foot problems that make dancing difficult

4) Hallux Limitus

Hallux Limitus is a condition that refers to the loss of movement in the joint of your big toe. For most people, the toe should be able to extend between 50-90 degrees with no pain or strain. For those with Hallux Limitus, that range of motion is severely limited.

Many podiatrists consider Hallux Limitus to be the beginning of Hallux Rigidus. This isn’t always the case, but recognizing symptoms and causes can make it easier to treat, and can keep the condition from getting worse quickly.

The potential causes and symptoms of Hallux Limitus are much like those of Hallux Rigidus. But, you can start treatment that much sooner if you recognize the symptoms right away. Some common treatment options include:

  • Toe/foot exercises and stretches
  • Toe spacing appliances
  • Topical pain relievers to reduce swelling

5) Posterior Impingement Syndrome

Posterior Impingement Syndrome is also known as Ankle Impingement or Dancer’s Heel. It occurs when you feel pain in the back of your ankle. It’s common for dancers because it is often caused by repeated compression of the bone and tissue in the ankle.

Gymnasts and soccer players are also extremely prone to the disease. Any repeated activity that causes you to bend the ankle frequently can compromise the structure of the bone and tissues, leading to this condition.

The primary symptom of this condition is a sharp pain in the ankle joint. This intense pain will typically occur when the ankle is ‘flexed’ or in a pointing position, which is prevalent for ballet dancers.

If the condition becomes severe, you may notice pain during activity, and also at rest. It can be diagnosed by a physiotherapist, or by getting an X-Ray or MRI of the area.

Treatment for Posterior Impingement Syndrome usually goes in stages. The most important thing to start with is how to manage and treat your pain.

Everything from ice and rest to compression bandages and specific exercises can help to control your pain and make the condition easier to keep treating.

Treatment by a physiotherapist will then focus on restoring the full range of motion of your ankle, as well as muscle strength. This has to be done gradually to get completely back to normal.

Because dancers use their ankles and need them to be stronger than most people, it can take even longer to make a full recovery from this condition. But, it is possible with time and the right types of rest and exercises.

6) Metatarsalgia

Things like ballroom dancing need you to be on the balls of your feet frequently. This is true whether you’re lifting your partner in the air or just maintaining proper posture. Being on the balls of your feet is necessary for many of the required movements in a ballroom or ballet routine.

Unfortunately, these activities can lead to Metatarsalgia. It is a condition that causes the balls of your feet to become extremely painful and inflamed.

Symptoms of the condition aside from pain in the ball of your foot include:

  • Sharp burning in the ball of your foot
  • Numbness or tingling in the toes
  • Pain that gets worse when you flex your feet and feels better when you rest

Metatarsalgia can cause a dancer to be out of practice for a while. The good news is that it’s a condition that isn’t as serious as many other foot ailments. At-home treatments are often enough to treat the problem entirely.

Resting your feet and using ice to reduce inflammation are both great ways to treat the condition. Wearing shock-absorbing insoles can also help when it comes to finding relief and lowering your risk of future problems.

It’s rare that medical attention is needed for this condition. But, you have to make sure to give yourself enough rest before getting back on the dance floor. If you don’t, the discomfort from the condition could become worse.

Many dancers invest in metatarsal pads. These are simple pads that go over the ball of the foot. They work by restoring the foot pad to its correct position, as well as treating overextended toes.

You can wear metatarsal pads with almost any type of shoe, including soft ballroom shoes or ballet shoes. Not only will they help to make sure your feet are in the right position, but they will add increased padding and support. If you’re spending hours on your feet dancing, that extra support can help to reduce pain and inflammation.

7) Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is a common foot condition that affects mostly runners or people who wear shoes without the right kind of support. Because it’s common for people who use their feet a lot, dancers are prone to it, too.

It is a condition that causes inflammation of the large band of tissue that runs from your heel to your toes. When this tissue becomes inflamed, it can cause intense pain in the heel.

The pain caused by plantar fasciitis is usually at its worst first thing in the morning, when you take your first few steps. For most people, the pain will lessen throughout the day. But, it can also become much worse after exercise, such as dancing.

swollen feet from dancing

In most cases, conservative treatment is all that’s necessary to help with the discomfort caused by this condition. Rest, ice, and certain stretches can help to get rid of the pain.

For a dancer, though, this isn’t always possible. More treatment options may be needed. Pain relievers and physical therapy are popular options for people with a more severe case of this condition.

It’s rare, but surgery is sometimes an option when no other treatments have worked. It usually is only considered an option when the pain from the condition becomes too severe.

To lower your risk of getting plantar fasciitis, you should be sure to wear shoes with support, stretch properly, and maintain a healthy weight.

8) Hammertoe

Sometimes, the presence of a hammertoe is due to your genes. It’s true that you can be at risk for this condition from birth. But, dancers are prone to hammertoe due to torn ligaments in the toes from overusing them. It can also be caused by wearing tight-fitting, pointed shoes.

Hammertoe is a deformity of the toes. It causes a toe on your foot to bend inward or ‘curl,’ instead of pointing outward as it’s supposed to. While it can affect any toe, it most commonly affects the second or third toes.

Anything from an injury to tightened tendons in the foot can trigger this condition. The biggest symptom is the visible sign of a bent toe.

But, you may also notice the following symptoms if you have hammertoe:

  • Difficulty walking
  • Corns
  • Calluses
  • Unable to wiggle your toes

A hammertoe is usually diagnosed by a physical exam. As a dancer, one of the most common causes of hammertoe is inappropriate footwear. The good news? You can often correct the problem by switching to shoes that fit better and offer some support.

If that doesn’t work, gentle stretching and things like padding and insoles in your shoes can help to get rid of the pain. The stretches can also reposition the toe to its rightful spot. Once the hammertoe goes away, there shouldn’t be any lasting complications.

How to Prevent Foot Injuries from Dancing

As a dancer, your feet are your most important asset. But, when you’re using them all the time and putting stress on them, injuries and medical conditions can occur. You’re automatically at a higher risk for some of these conditions because of what you do on a daily basis.

But, taking care of your feet the right way and taking the right precautions can help. The good news is that many of the conditions listed in this guide are treatable. They may need some rest or even physical therapy. But, they won’t take you out of the world of dance forever.

We hope that by breaking down some of these conditions, you can be more aware of them if you start to experience symptoms. With almost any foot condition, catching it early is the key to a fast treatment.

Keep track of the symptoms listed here for different injuries and ailments. If you recognize that something is wrong, you should treat it. If you do, you’ll be back on your feet and be dancing beautifully in no time.