Will ballet cause claw toes?

ballet dancer foot problems claw toes

Common feet and ankle problems in ballerinas and dancers.

Claw toes, hammer toes, mallet toes, bunions and all the other similar changes and deformities are frequently noticed in ballet dancers, largely because of the movements and footwear. Ballroom dancers and Irish dancers often suffer similar foot problems.

Though, deformity, pain and other complications should be preventable with the correct, well-informed treatment and advice.

Similar to our fingers, each toe has multiple tendons and ligaments that work to bend and straighten the toe. Claw toes or hammer toes occur over time as the muscles and tendons that control the toe become imbalanced, leading eventually to a fixed bent position that cannot be straightened or controlled.

What causes foot problems like claw toes, hammer toes and other toe deformities in dancers?

There are many contributing factors that lead to an imbalance in the tendons that control the toes. The most common consist of:

  • Atrophy (degeneration or weakening) of the intrinsic muscles affecting the feet and toes.
  • Very frequent use of footwear that causes the toes to function in a ‘scrunched’ or bent position. For example, shoes that are too small.
  • Injury to the plantar plate ligament
  • Secondary changes from advanced bunions

What are the options for the treatment of claw toes and hammer toes in ballet dancers?

At the flexible stage where a digit can be straightened with the hands or a brace, targeted exercises, taping, corrective devices, and changes to footwear can prevent the deformity from becoming fixed and rigid as well as loss of function in the affected toes.

A podiatrist is the expert to consult when concerned with early changes or assessing the risk of permanent change occurring in the toes.

Once claw toes, hammer toes or other toe deformities become ‘fixed’ it means they are no longer flexible or cannot be returned to their original position with the assistance of your hands or a brace. The most common issue we see resulting from this is pressure points causing bruising, blistering, callus or corns. Once a toe deformity is no longer flexible, there is very little non-surgical opportunity for improvement, although offloading strategies to reduce pain or corns can be very successful.

Podiatrists can often successfully offload these areas of pressure to make you more comfortable and reduce your chance of re-injury, as well as providing referral pathways for surgical opinions if desired.

How ballet dancers can prevent foot problems like claw toes and hammer toes.

Ballet presents a list of risk factors that contribute to the mechanism of deformity for claw toes and toe deformities. Some examples would include:

  • Narrow and tight-fitting footwear – they’re the most flattering for the line of the feet.
  • The rigid toe box in pointe shoes.
  • Significant loading of the intrinsic foot muscles acting on the toes.
  • High rates of fatigue in and around the foot and ankle.
  • High occurrence of blisters and callus formation which can change the way dancers apply pressure to the toes.
  • Frequent, incorrect use of products to decrease friction and pressure inside the shoes.
  • Improper technique.
  • Minimising the impact of these risks can drastically improve your ability to prevent changes in the toes that lead to deformities like claw toes and hammer toes. A qualified and experienced ballet teacher can help with ensuring each dancer’s technique is safe for participation in ballet.

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.

If you are concerned with claw toes, hammer toes or other digital deformities that may be causing pain, call Performance Podiatry today.

Our podiatrists are experts in all conditions of the foot and lower leg and would be happy to help you participate in ballet and dance supported, strong and pain-free.

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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Book a consultation with our podiatrists in Sydney (Macquarie St)Darlinghurst and Randwick to discuss your condition and we’ll get you pain-free and back to full function as smoothly and quickly as possible, so you can return to the activities and life you love.

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