Wake up, crack your back, pop your hips, pointe and flex your feet, make your coffee, get to work an hour early to warm up. This is what the morning of a dancer looks like. Commonly feeling some sort of residual soreness from the previous day’s rehearsals or suffering from an area that’s particularly tight, we work differently every day depending on how our bodies are feeling. As dancers, we’re pretty in-tune with the differences between soreness or “good pain” and injuries or “bad pain”.
Everyone needs and prefers different things to prepare for their work day, a show, or rehearsals. Some dancers adopt a long daily regimen before class to get warm. Some waltz in with minutes to spare, ready to dive into barre. No matter your preferences, we all have to be cautious about injury and be vigilant in our foot care.
Over my years as a professional and even in school, I’ve experienced and seen my fair share of injuries - sprains and foot bone breaks that happen in an instant, chronic issues like stress factors, stress reactions and tendonitis.
Personally, after spraining my ankle a few times, I suffer from stiffness, swelling and foot pain that comes with being in pointe shoes all day. To manage these symptoms, I rely heavily on my Thera-Band - a latex resistance band. I use this to strengthen my feet and ankles, especially before a long day when I know I’ll be on pointe or jumping a lot. I also make sure to roll out my calves and feet with a tennis ball or foot roller to avoid tightness from compensation. When I’m feeling particularly sore or tight, my trusted foot care routine is to allow myself extra time to stretch and roll out before and after my day. But when it comes to a warm up routine, every dancer is different. The “right” way or time to warm up just depends on the person, and whatever life throws at them that day.
All dancers have to be careful when crossing the threshold between “managing” foot pain and suffering from a real injury. After a bad ankle twist or fall, you instantly know when you need to stop. With overuse injuries that happen gradually, it’s harder to decide.
As tacky as it sounds, though, dancers usually just know - it’s like a 6th sense. You go up on pointe and you know something’s not right. Or you take off for a turn and something feels off. That’s when you need to decide if you can tend to it yourself you should rest and modify or to go see the doctor.
My advice for dancers dealing with injuries and chronic problems is to listen to what your body is saying. Don’t ignore the warning signs. Don’t push for the next show when you could risk being out the whole season. Taking care of yourself isn’t a sign of weakness, it shows you care about your body, your job and your career.