Ballet, mainly pointe work, is often associated with foot injuries, countless blistered, inflamed skin, broken toenails, and bunions. Many people warn against ballet at more advanced levels because it is sure to ruin your feet. That begs the question, does ballet actually ruin your feet?
Ballet can be hard on your feet and toes, especially when spending a lot of time en pointe. There can be some lasting effects of ballet on your feet, but ballet does not ruin your feet.
Many factors can contribute to a dancers’ foot health and every dancer is different. There are a lot of preventative measures that dancers take to protect their feet both for immediate relief and long-term health.
Can Ballet Ruin Your Feet?
The short answer is yes, ballet can ruin your feet. However, this is very rare. Dancing en pointe is hard on your feet and often leads to various issues such as blisters, bunions, broken toenails, and sometimes even mild to serious injury.
Most of these foot ailments are somewhat short-lived and expected when dancing en pointe. There isn’t a long-term risk associated with blisters, for example, and they are simply uncomfortable in the moment.
However, there is a risk of injury when dancing, just like there is with any sport. Dancing en pointe does pose a slightly higher risk, but nothing to be too concerned about if you have received proper training and regularly check in with your body and see a physical therapist and/or doctor when needed.
The reason why many people think that ballet ruins your feet is because some dancers do have quite a few blisters, bunions, and broken toenails at any given point in their career. If you look at an active ballet dancer’s feet, you may think that they look ‘ruined.’ However, most of these issues will heal eventually.
In some cases, dancers end up with permanent issues with bunions, unnatural toe nail shapes, and chronic foot pain from injury. These can all range from mild and barely noticeable to severe and requiring surgery.
Risk Factors for Blisters and Bunions
Most dancers that dance en pointe will experience a blister at some point. Putting that much pressure on the toes and feet while confined to the shape of the pointe shoe makes this close to inevitable. However, every dancer is different and there are many factors that may lead to more or less issues and pain while dancing en pointe.
One major factor is the pointe shoe itself. There are countless brands, models, and customizations that a dancer can choose from. Every shoe works for a different type and shape of foot. Getting the right size and model is really important in keeping your feet happy and healthy.
Having a pointe shoe that is too big or has the wrong shape in the box can create more sliding in the shoe. This will lead to more blisters and inflammation of the skin as well as broken toenails. A shoe that is too small or too tapered in the box for your foot shape could lead to increased bunions and toe injuries.
Another factor is skin type. Dancers with fairer and/or more sensitive skin tend to have more issues with skin inflammation and redness. This can lead to blisters and other discomfort when en pointe. This means it is even more important to take preventative measures and find the right pointe shoe.
Pre-existing bunions or toe shape issues are a huge risk factor for developing worse or even dangerous bunions while dancing en pointe. Some can even require surgery. Dancers with this risk should consider using toe spacers and make sure that they have a good pointe shoe fit.
How Can You Protect Your Feet as a Dancer?
There are a few different ways that dancers can protect their feet from discomfort and injury during pointe work. Some dancers find that they may need to do almost all of these, while others may not need as much help. It all depends on your individual feet and situation.
The number one way to protect your feet from injury and discomfort is getting a professional pointe shoe fitting done. You may need multiple if your feet are growing still or you aren’t satisfied with your fit.
Professional fitters are able to target problems you’re having with your feet, such as pain, blisters, or bunions, as well as help you get over your shoes, balance better, and make your feet look prettier. This can greatly improve your dancing, therefore reducing risk of injury, and help relieve some if not all discomfort.
Another way to help your toes out is to experiment with different padding options. There are many different types of toe pads out there as well as different cushioning technologies in pointe shoes. Different types are good for different people depending on feet and preference, so trying out many options can be beneficial.
Toe spacers can help with bunions and alignment problems in the toes. These can be especially helpful if you have a pointe shoe that isn’t quite right for you and you don’t have access to a good fitter or the proper shoe. Some dancers still require a spacer even in the right shoe.
There are also various heel inserts for pointe shoes that can help you in a variety of ways. They can help keep the shoe on if you have a disappearing heel or give your heel extra cushion to fill the shoe out and give you some extra padding. They can also help prevent heel blisters if that’s an issue you face.
Customizing your pointe shoe can also help. You can break it in certain places, pre-arch it if it isn’t already, add jet glue to spots, add elastic, and more. This can really help with various issues you might have with your feet.
Lastly, taping your toes or adding other single toe sleeves or pads can also prevent blisters in spots that you often get them. If you know that your pinky toe often gets a blister, then tape your pinky toe to help prevent that from occurring next class.
Taking Care of Blisters
Blisters are an unfortunate reality for a lot of dancers. Even with the proper precautions and careful preparation blisters can still occur. This means that knowing how to take care of them can be the next step to relieving discomfort en pointe.
The classic way of taking care of blisters is tape. Many dancers tape up their blisters with various types of athletic and/or medical tape to prevent them from continuing to rub on the shoe. Some dancers use bandages as well. You can also add ointments under the tape to help encourage healing.
A lot of dancers swear by ointments that create an extra layer of ‘skin’ on top of the blister such as New-Skin. These types of products can help the blister heal faster and greatly reduce the discomfort. Many dancers will combine this with tape to encourage a quick healing process.
There are also many products out there that can be placed over the entire toe. This can be used as a preventative measure as well, but can also be helpful in protecting a newly formed blister. These toe sleeves are made of various different materials and simply create a layer between the skin and the shoe.
Ballet doesn’t ruin your feet for life. It can cause temporary discomfort and injury. Knowing how to take care of your feet, prevent injury, and recover properly is essential to reducing this discomfort and avoiding serious injury.
While some dancers end up with chronic foot issues, they are usually minor. It is not impossible to have a serious issue, but it isn’t something to be concerned about. Just take care of your feet to the best of your ability and enjoy dancing your heart out.