Prevent and treat common nail injuries.

Few problems are as painful and unsightly as a battered toenail. Sarah Chisholm, a dancer with Ballet Arizona, knows this well. She has suffered from chronic bruised and ingrown nails throughout much of her career. “It’s hard to focus on your work when you’re always worrying about how much your feet hurt,” she says. “You don’t get to think about the joy that comes from dancing.”

Dancers spend hours crammed into sweaty shoes, making them great candidates for ingrown nails, bruising and nail fungus. Though these aren’t usually threatening enough to force someone to take time off, they can cause days, weeks or even months of painful distraction. Many nail problems can be prevented by taking small precautions.

Bruised Toenails

A bruised nail might last several months, and the condition can be extremely painful. Often caused by stubbing the toe or knuckling over on pointe, the nail shifts over its bed where many blood vessels meet, causing bleeding under the nail. Long toenails and tight shoes or pointe shoe boxes that don’t match a dancer’s foot type can also put excessive pressure on the toes.

After bruising, ice the foot to soothe the pain. And regularly clean the area to prevent infection. “The dried blood under the nail bed is a breeding ground for bacteria,” says podiatrist Dr. Thomas Novella, who works with New York City dancers.

The nail may eventually loosen or fall off, but keep it intact as long as possible. “Band-Aid or tape it in place until a new nail begins to grow,” says Novella. Toenails grow just 1–2 millimeters per month, so it can take up to a year for a new one to fully form.

While growing a new nail, Chisholm applies 2nd Skin, a jelly-like adhesive that can be cut to size. “I stick it on my toenail, and it acts as a buffer,” she says. “It’s very cooling and helps with impact.”

Ingrown Toenails

Ingrown toenails are common in young dancers, whose nail plates have not yet strengthened, and those with nails that curve side to side. Chronic bruising can also damage nail beds enough so they grow back incorrectly, says Atlanta Ballet podiatrist Dr. Frank Sinkoe. “If it’s disrupted, it can cause an abnormality,” he says. Trim the nail to match the toe’s shape to help prevent ingrowns; be careful not to cut too far into the corners.

To soften the nail as it grows out, soak the foot in an Epsom salt and warm water bath. Resist the urge to pick; it could cause infection. If the pain is unbearable or there is swelling, redness and increased skin temperature, see a podiatrist. If it’s not infected, they can pack cotton deep under the nail. “This helps guide the skin away from the nail as it grows,” says Novella. In chronic cases, podiatrists can permanently remove the sides of the nail as a preventive measure.

Toenail Fungus

Fungal toenails are rarely painful, but they’re extremely unsightly and hard to treat. The nails are yellowed, thick and crumbly, and the surrounding skin is red and scaly. They often have a yeasty odor and powdery debris.

Novella says to seek help after noticing symptoms because “addressing fungus early will help a lot in the long run.” To diagnose the fungus, a podiatrist sends a snippet of the nail to a lab, and if confirmed, may suggest topical creams. Oral medications are most effective, but they can cause serious side effects like liver damage.

To prevent toenail fungus, change socks frequently and dry out dance shoes and toe pads. “Funghi is Italian for mushrooms. And where do mushrooms like to grow? Moist, dark places, like under logs—or inside sweaty shoes,” says Novella. He adds that the condition is contagious, so students should avoid sharing shoes, socks and nail clippers. DT

Toe-Strengthening Techniques

Students need strong feet for pointe work, but few concentrate on their toes specifically. “Fatigue sets in and they start knuckling,” says Atlanta Ballet podiatrist Dr. Frank Sinkoe. This puts excess pressure on the nails, causing bruising. The exercises below strengthen the arch and intrinsic muscles, which flex the toes and support the feet.

Tendus for the Toes: Sitting on the floor with the legs in parallel, wrap a Thera-Band around the ball and toes of the foot, holding the ends of the band, and tendu side, turned in. Keeping the toes straight and long, flex and extend only from the metatarsals, 10 times.

Arch Squats: In parallel position, lift one leg off the floor to the side. Plié to 30 degrees and focus on maintaining the arch’s dome shape. Hold for five seconds and return to the starting position. Do 10 repetitions.

Slow Relevés: On one foot, relevé to demi-pointe on count one. Hold count two, rolling down on three. Complete three sets of 10 in both parallel and turned-out positions.

Amy Brandt dances with The Suzanne Farrell Ballet.

Photo: ©iStockphoto.com

Dancer Health

The Feldenkrais Method is a somatic technique created by Moshe Feldenkrais in the 1950s. The method has two parts: hands-on sessions with a Feldenkrais teacher (Functional Integration) or group classes comprised of verbal cues (Awareness Through Movement).

Mary Armentrout, a dance teacher, choreographer and Feldenkrais practitioner, shares three ways that this somatic practice can bolster your students' training.

Keep reading... Show less
Your Studio

Oversexualizing young kids has been a hot topic among dance teachers in recent years. It's arguably the most controversial topic teachers and studio owners are faced with. Deciding which choreography, music or costumes are appropriate—or not—isn't always black and white and can be easily overlooked. Is showing the midriff too much for minis? Is this choreography too provocative? Is this popular song too suggestive for a competition piece? The questions can seem endless with no clear objective answers. Until now.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
To make dancers stronger and less injury-prone, Burns Wilson suggest adding floor barre or conditioning classes. Photo courtesy of Burns Wilson

With a career spanning 30-plus years in the dance field, Anneliese Burns Wilson has cultivated a unique perspective on health and injury prevention for dancers. From teaching ballet to teaching anatomy, she then founded ABC for Dance, which publishes dance-teaching materials. Now through research for her next book, which will focus on training the female adolescent dancer, she's delving even deeper into topics many dance teachers have overlooked.

Keep reading... Show less
Erdmann (left) on set for "Hairspray Live" (courtesy of Erdmann)

When Wicked ensemble member Kelli Erdman was training at Westlake Dance Center in Seattle, Washington, her teacher Kirsten Cooper taught her that focussed transitions would be pivotal to her success as a dancer. Now as a professional, she applies this advice to her daily performances, asserting that she will never let the details of her dancing get blurry.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers & Role Models
Khobdeh dancing Taylor's Speaking In Tongues. Photo courtesy of PTDC

For Parisa Khobdeh, music does more than set the tone for a piece—it's enabled her to connect with movement. And once she joined Paul Taylor Dance Company in 2003, Taylor's body of work deepened this connection. "His choreography showed me the music, the architecture and the space," she says. "I now see the music."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Buzz

We haven't been able to stop watching Lil' Mushroom since she popped and locked her way into Ellen's heart last week. We know you've got a long night of teaching ahead, and this is the dance inspiration you need to get you through. Check it out and tell us what you think about her killer moves over on our Facebook page! (She starts blowing minds at about 2:16.)

Keep reading... Show less
How-To

Because the chassé is often neglected during the execution of this traveling step, Judy Rice asks her students to do a minimum of a six-inch chassé before transitioning into the pas de bourrée. She encourages dancers to pay close attention to their shoulders and hips in effacé, too. "Kids tend to open it up. They look like they're fencing," she says. "You don't want that." Both shoulders and hip bones should be facing the corner.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored