Can flooring cause foot and ankle pain in ballerinas?

ballerina foot pain

Common feet and ankle problems in ballerinas and dancers.

Now, more than ever, we’ve seen an increase in injuries related to the type of flooring used for practice and rehearsal in dancers.

A large contributor to the recent spike in flooring-related injuries has been online or at-home dance classes following dance studio closures due to the  COVID-19 pandemic.

Important dance flooring considerations.

Shock Absorption

Shock absorption is the biggest consideration to make when assessing whether a floor option is adequate for safe dance participation. Ideally, it should absorb up to 53% of ground reaction forces, leaving the dancer to manage the remaining 47%.

Floor Finish

Floor finish is another consideration to make, however, ‘optimal’ finishes vary depending on a few factors eg. dance style. The finish needs to provide enough friction to protect against slip and fall risks in tap shoes or satin ballet shoes, for example, whilst also allowing dynamic, fluid motion for movements like turns without posing a risk of injuries like friction burns in bare feet.

Dancing or training at home.

When dancing or completing physical activity at home, it may be helpful to know that concrete has a shock absorption value of zero! So any floor option laid directly on top of concrete will have zero ability to absorb force, unless it has its own cushioning system. Common in-home areas with tiles, thin vinyl flooring, hardwood overlaying concrete and carpeted areas will offer little to no assistance with shock absorption!

What should dance studio flooring look like?

Dance studio flooring varies quite widely depending on the level of dance, styles of dance offered and size of the space.

The most common types of flooring fall under the umbrella of ‘elastic flooring’ whereby the floors are stable surfaces on top, then are cushioned underneath and/or have an element of flex.

A few common examples include:

  • Wooden floorboards – as long as the boards aren’t laid over concrete!

  • Vinyl flooring – there are many types of vinyl flooring options. Most are great options for shock absorption, Tarkett vinyl flooring is among the most common.

  • Other sprung flooring systems – vary in look and feel, and can be portable or in-built.

What ballerina and dancer injuries are affected most by flooring?

Injuries related to shock absorption

Flooring that lacks shock absorption may lead to injuries such as:

  • Medial tibial stress syndrome (‘shin splints’, tibial stress fractures etc.)

  • Dancer’s fracture (stress fracture of 2nd metatarsal)

  • Other stress reactions and fractures

  • Various Tendinopathies (tibialis posterior, tibialis anterior, Achilles)

  • Ankle sprains

A lack of shock absorption causes a heavy reliance on the stability and capacity of the foot, ankle, leg, hip and back joints and tissues. This also leads to increased fatigue. Landings will feel heavier and harder. This means that unless a dancer can land with perfect alignment and efficiency every time, they’re at a greater risk of injury.

Injuries related to floor finish

Flooring with an inappropriate finish is more likely to lead to injuries like:

  • Friction burns

  • Bruising & blisters

  • Falls & slips

  • Ankle sprains or ankle strains

  • Patellar-tracking issues

  • Pain or injuries related to tibial torsion

Most issues with finish will have most of their impact on movements like turning, sliding and rolling. The floor could feel too ‘sticky’ or ‘slippery’. It is also worth noting that things like the weather, the type of footwear used, excessive sweat, water spills, rosin use, the style of dance and the level of expertise of the dancers are all things that should be considered when considering the appropriate finish for a particular dance class.

Flooring is often a contributor to injury that is overlooked, but understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each flooring choice can greatly improve your ability to manage and monitor a wider scope of risk factors affecting dancers!

Why dancers should see a podiatrist.

A podiatrist can help to emphasise the specific risks affecting each dancer based on extensive foot function testing, level of experience in ballet and dance, as well as medical and family history.

Make an appointment with our specialist dance podiatrist. 

Tayla Forland is a specialist dance podiatrist and is qualified to treat all podiatry problems. Tayla has completed further specialist training and certifications to assist all dancers with pre-pointe preparation and assessments, pointe shoe fitting and Progressing Ballet Technique (PBT). Tayla has a specialised interest in foot and leg injuries, pain and conditions associated with ballet, dance and artistic sports for clients of all ages and experience levels.

With over 17 years of experience as a dancer, Tayla developed a passion for dance podiatry. This means that she has a specialised interest in foot and leg injuries, pain and conditions associated with ballet, dance and artistic sports for clients of all ages and experience levels.

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