According to John Hopkins Medicine, ankle sprains are the most commonly seen injury in the ballet world.1
There is a wide range of debate as to why these injuries occur so commonly but, most agreed upon is because of compensations with ballet technique.
When dancers are instructed to turnout in the ballet classroom, often they will compensate from the ankle joint and evert their ankles. Eversion of the ankle joint thus leads to stress on the knee, hip, and low back but, also may stretch the ligaments of the ankle. With the ligaments in a stretched position almost constantly throughout ballet class, this may cause ballet dancers to be in a higher risk category for ankle sprains than other types of dance.
Without proper strength training, re-training of technique, and stabilization of the ankle, ballet dancers are also at a greater risk for developing tendinitis post injury than other individuals. 3. This risk category is higher in ballet dancers because of the pressure to return to full function post-injury and either have not developed the necessary strength to return yet or fall into old compensatory patterns without knowing.
Suggestions from my own clinical experience and professional experience as a ballet dancer:
STOP overstretching your ankles
Too many dancers resort to devices like foot stretchers in attempts to make themselves have "better ballet feet." Even though these devices lay claim to improving your ballet feet and even professionals have endorsed their results, they are not safe or made for all dancers. Foot stretchers are unspecific and force the foot and ankle into a position that accommodates the device, not your foot.
I recently bought a foot stretcher to try it and see if any improvements have been made since I danced and realized how terrible these devices are. Not only did my foot not fit fully inside the device properly because of being wide and flat but, it only stretched my metatarsal joints leaving my actual arch and ankle unstretched and in a very unstable position. Some dancers with feet that fit into the device well may benefit from gentle stretching in them but, in order for it to work properly- the dancer already has to have quite a bit of flexibility in their arch. Which means, why are you using the device at all if you're already flexible enough to fit your foot in comfortably and point?
What these dancers need if they want better ballet feet is to embrace is more strength training of the metatarsal joints, ligaments and muscles that surround the ankle joint, and intrinsic muscles of the foot. This is why I built my foot and ankle course. So, that dancers can get improvement with their ballet feet but, in a way that they won't pay for it with injuries later. Click here if you'd like to learn more about my foot and ankle course and how you can start working on that now.
Discover the compensation that lead to your injury!
Figuring out how you're compensating in your body and why the ankle sprain occurred in the first place is CRUCIAL. Even if you landed a jump wrong and twisted your ankle, you cannot blame the jump entirely. You have to look at the entire picture. This means going back and looking at how you're performing throughout class with the foot and ankle joint. Ignoring this and simply saying "oh I landed a jump wrong," could be detrimental to your future ballet progress.
If you're everting and compensating from the ankles for more turnout, this can lead to an unstable ankle joint. Then every time you land a jump slightly awkward, you are at a higher risk to re-injuring that ankle or developing tendinitis.
As a former physical therapist assist, Certified personal trainer, and former pro dancer- I give ballet movement analysis in order to help dancers identify these areas of compensation. I look through your barre work and center and discover where the origination of the problem lies. Then from that, we construct a customized plan for helping you return to dance in safe and technically improved condition. For $25 off your evaluation use the code "INTROEVALUATION" and book your lesson here. Note Veronica will be on maternity leave from June to Aug 2023. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to join her waitlist for scheduling private lessons once she returns.
Don't be afraid to go back to basics!
Many times the problem originates in something very basic like pliés. Some advanced dancers may be put off by returning and correcting their plié form. Unfortunately, it may be necessary in order to permanently change and improve your technique. Sometimes as dancers we have to get over our egos of what "level" we're dancing at and just work on what we need to in order to improve. This may mean taking a beginner class for a while until you return to full strength. It also may mean staying off pointe a few weeks until the ankles have returned to full health and you have identified your compensatory patterns.
With proper training, evaluation, and care to technique you may never have an ankle sprain in your entire ballet career. Being pro-active and working on injury prevention like the above youtube video is a great start for you. Even if you've already sprained your ankle, scroll up to the video routine above and try integrating it into your dance training.
As always, feel free to email me or schedule a private lesson to further your ballet technique and prevent injuries.
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1. Common Dance Injuries and Prevention Tips. (2022, July 7). Common Dance Injuries and Prevention Tips | Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/sports-injuries/common-dance-injuries-and-prevention-tips
2. Hamilton WG. Sprained ankles in ballet dancers. Foot Ankle. 1982 Sep-Oct;3(2):99-102. doi: 10.1177/107110078200300208. PMID: 6815039.
3. Ritter, S., & Moore, M. (2008). The relationship between lateral ankle sprain and ankle tendinitis in ballet dancers. Journal of dance medicine & science : official publication of the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science, 12(1), 23–31.