Dancer’s Heel

Today I wanted to talk a bit more in-depth about an extermely common injury in the dance world…Achilles tendinitis.  It is effectively named “dancer’s heel” because of how much us ballerians deal with it.  I wanted to offer my tips, experience, and advice for this injury in an informal way today.  Enjoy!

DISCLAIMER: I’m not a doctor or in any way associated with being a professional in this industry, or anything medical-related.  In fact, I’m only 13 years old.  But I do feel that this is a subject I can offer my advice on as I’ve dealt with it for a number of years and have lots of experience. 🙂


What is Achilles tendonitis?

This injury happens when the Achilles tendon becomes inflammed, meaning it has tiny tears in the middle of the tendon, causing swelling and pain.

Described above is noninsertional Achilles tendonitis, way more common among dancers. If the pain is not in the middle of the tendon and is along where the Achilles inserts into the calcaneous, or the heel bone, that is a slightly more serious problem as bone spurs can develop.  Though this is less popular amongst dancers and can develop in anybody, even if they are not active in that area.

The causes

Tendonitis in your heel area is caused when there is repeated stress on your Achilles tendon.  This could happen if you suddenly increase your activity without giving your body time to adjust, if your calf mucles are extremely tight, or if you have a bone spur at the back of your ankle (we will not be talking about this problem today).

Specificially in dancers, below are some problems in technique that can cause Achilles tendonitis:

  • Not getting your heels all the way down between jumps
  • Pronating (rolling in) while dancing on your supporting foot
  • Not fully relaxing your foot as it closes to first or fifth position during tendus/dégagés/rond de jambes

Tendonitis can also occur if you over-use your calf muscles without resting them, or especially neglect to stretch, massage, roll-out, and release your calf muscles after a long day.  We will talk about this problem more now!

Preventing

With any injury or problem, we must prevent it before it happens to us.  Here are some of my favorite ways to prevent Achilles tendonitis:

  • Calf stretches – see Flexibility Guide
  • Massaging/rolling out your calves
  • Previously strengthening your calves and then releasing them so there is not so much stress on your calves when you get to the difficult activity at hand.
  • Taking an epsom salt bath after a hard day of calf work to release the muscle

To roll out your calves, take a golf ball, tennis ball, or lacrosse ball and put it under your calf.  Sitting up, slowly roll back and forth on the ball to release the muscle generally and access any small knots or tight areas in the muscle specifically.  The smaller ball you use, the more specific area you will get.

Epsom salt baths are great for generally releasing muscles.  My favorite epsom salt is the Batherapy Sport Bath Salts.  They are fantastic for releasing tight calves and muscles in general.

Symptoms…where will it hurt?

Below is a quick list of Achilles tendonitis symptoms:

  • Swelling of your Achilles and heel area
  • Obvious and sharp pain in the lower Achilles area and heel area during activity, especially jumps and relevés on one leg – anything calf-heavy
  • Thickening of the tendon
  • Stiffness of the tendon in the morning, it seems like the tendon is preventing your foot from pointing fully

Treatment

Finally, if you already have Achilles tendonitis, here are a few things you can do to help cure it quicker so you can get back to dancing your best:

  • Do all of the things for prevention – you don’t want it to get any worse.
  • Ice it.  Use an ice pack along your Achilles in the morning before warming it up for dancing, and then take an ice bath every night.
  • Do a thorough job of warming up your Achilles tendon for class in the morning.  I like ankle circles and thera band exercises.  A good idea for a passive warm up would be to use a heating pad, and some warm socks or Bloch booties over that tense foot until class starts.  See my Warm Up routine post and Strengthening Guide for resources and exercises.
  • Rest it.  Don’t do any calf-heavy extra classes on the weekends, and stay away from repetitive calf exercises outside of class.

I hope this article helped you, and I’ll see you on Friday with my Joffrey week 3 reflection.

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