Ballet dancers’ toes are essential to their awe-inspiring dancing. With how much ballet dancers use their toes and feet, both en pointe and off, do you ever wonder if they break their toes and how dancing impacts their feet?
While ballet dancers are prone to foot injuries and can break their toes just like the rest of us, dancing en pointe rarely leads to broken toes due to the high degree of strength, training, and shoes made to support their feet.
Dancing en pointe may not often lead to broken toes, but dancers are more prone to injuries, especially to the foot and ankle, due to the demand put on their bodies daily.
Do Ballet Dancers Break Their Toes?
Ballet puts a lot of pressure on a dancer’s toes. Not only does it require the dancer to point their feet constantly, dancing en pointe puts the dancer’s full weight on their toes. Because of this, foot injuries are common in dancers and can be devastating for their career.
One might think that broken toes are commonplace among dancers, but the most common foot injuries seen in dancers are to their ankles and Achilles tendons. These injuries often arise from jumping or repetitive motion.
This is not to say that ballet dancers never break their toes. Just like with anything else, injuries happen. With the amount of time they spend on their feet and putting pressure on their toes, they do have more opportunity to receive a toe injury, such as a break.
A broken toe would have a tremendous impact on the dancer’s ability to dance, rendering them unable to dance en pointe and limiting their class time during their recovery.
While ballet dancers aren’t just breaking their toes left and right, they are susceptible to stress fractures in their feet and toes. The demand placed on the bones in their feet can inevitably lead to these types of fractures.
Stress fractures are hairline fractures that can result from overuse or improper recovery. Dancers commonly sustain stress fractures on their metatarsals, the long bones that connect to the toes, rather than on the toes themselves.
Read more: Can Adults Learn Ballet En Pointe
How Are Dancers Able to Dance En Pointe Safely?
You might be wondering how it is possible for dancers to put all their weight on their toes without causing injury. After all, it doesn’t seem physiologically possible to balance on tips of your toes without injury. Thankfully, pointe shoes are built to support and protect the dancer’s feet. With adequate training and the proper shoes, dancing en pointe is relatively safe.
In simplest terms, pointe shoes are made of layers of fabric and glue then covered in satin. These layers create a firm platform, called the block, on the tip of the shoe for the dancers to stand on.
The vamp, or the section that encapsulates the toes, is also relatively hard and secures the toes in place, while still being soft enough to allow for articulation and control. This is what protects the toes from injury.
The vamp concentrates all the weight onto the block of the shoe and takes the pressure off the toes individually. This offers support to the foot, making it easier to balance and prevents toe injuries.
While pointe shoes are essential to being able to dance on your toes, they aren’t the whole equation. A ballet dancer trains for years before they get their first pair of pointe shoes. This is because it requires adequate strength, mobility, and technique to be able to dance en pointe safely.
For example, if a dancer doesn’t have the proper ankle strength, they could easily roll their ankle when stepping onto pointe. This can be very dangerous as a fall from pointe can lead to not only foot injuries, but also knee, wrist, or other injuries from the impact.
What Happens When a Dancer Gets Injured?
Injuries are an unfortunate reality among dancers of any style, even if pointe doesn’t necessarily lead to broken toes. An injury of any kind can be a setback in a dancer’s training and career. A missed audition or performance can mean that a dancer misses a window of opportunity that is short and scarce. Especially early in a dancer’s career, an injury could be devastating.
However, getting injured doesn’t always mean the end of a career. In order to keep their skills up, a dancer will work hard on stretching and conditioning to keep up to standard. There are also ways to simplify a class so they can continue training despite an injury. These activities are essential to a dancer being able to jump back into dancing as soon as they are fully recovered.
Unfortunately, recovery isn’t the end for most dancers. Often, dancers will continue to have issues with the location of the injury for years to come. This means that they need to keep an eye out for any pain or discomfort and address it as quickly as possible. This could mean taking it easy for a little while, but in professionals, this means seeing a physical therapist on a regular basis to keep their body in peak condition.
What is the Impact of Ballet on Dancers’ Feet?
Professional ballet dancers wear pointe shoes up to 8 hours per day, sometimes even more! This can lead to various issues with their feet that could affect both their dancing and the rest of their life.
One of the minor issues that arise from wearing pointe shoes for many hours is blisters, calluses, and broken or bruised toe-nails. These can be painful for the dancer and many dancers tape their toes for this reason.
There are also several inflammatory and growth issues that can occur in dancers’ feet and toes. These can be short term or long term. Some of them are harmless, but others can lead to chronic pain or toe alignment issues that need to be addressed. This is another reason proper recovery and physical therapy are such important parts of a dancer’s career.
Read more: Do Ballet Dancers Have Ugly Feet
Things to Remember
Ballet is a beautiful but demanding style of dance. Not only does it require pushing your body to the extreme, but it also involves putting all of your weight on the tips of your toes. Whether you are a dancer or an observer, here are some things to remember about injuries in dancers:
- Dancing en pointe doesn’t lead to broken toes because of the structure of pointe shoes. However, extensive training and strength are required to be able to dance en pointe safely. Always get permission from a teacher or consult a professional before attempting to dance en pointe.
- Foot and ankle injuries are common in dancers, especially stress fractures and injuries to the ankle and Achilles tendon.
- An injury can be devastating to a dancer’s career and recovery from an injury is a complex process both immediately after the event and in the years after. Constant attention to the body is an important part of being a dancer.
- Lastly, ballet can have long term impacts on a dancer’s feet. Keeping a close eye on their feet and being careful about recovery are essential to a long career and a better quality of life after retirement.
Dancing can be brutal on the body, especially the feet and toes. However, dancing is also a great form of exercise and a rewarding career for many. While there are many impacts on the feet, as discussed here, don’t let that deter you from enjoying ballet, whether from the stage or the audience.