Do you have a young dancer who is about to go up onto pointe this year? Or perhaps they already are on pointe but are still struggling or getting marked down in exams or eisteddfods? Or perhaps you are that super proactive parent who wants to ensure your child has all the tools to truly excel at ballet? Then this is an important article for you to ensure your child is set up for dancing success in pointe shoes.
Most young ballet dancers will sustain AT LEAST 1 lower limb injury a year and this risk factor only increases once on pointe shoes. We don’t want to stop kids from dancing but you NEED to know about these 5 key areas to ensure your child is set up for success.
However when you see the right physio and more importantly get the right plan, your child can be dancing and working on their strength and technique now so that when pointe work gets into full swing they are ready to succeed.
It’s amazing how resilient kids are but it’s even more amazing that these incredibly active kids can also be so weak and predisposing themselves to injury. We hate it when our patients can’t do the things they love which is why we always take the proactive approach to ensure, especially children, are set up to succeed in their sporting endeavours.
If you want to know exactly what these 5 key areas your child must tick off to safely go onto pointe then read on as this might be the difference between having an amazing dance year without injury or getting sore and sitting on the sidelines.
Area number 1 is much higher than you would think – all the way up in their back. So going up on pointe is particularly challenging as now you have a smaller area to control your centre of gravity over. If your child has a sway back posture where they are poking their chest/belly forwards and bottom backwards, this situation makes it incredibly challenging to maintain balance on pointe.
The sway back posture typically indicates that they are “resting” on their joints which makes it harder for them to change their back posture and control their balance. If uncorrected it will typically mean they will struggle to get all the way up on pointe due to their centre of balance making them fall forwards. Now there are some clever people out there that can get around this but it usually means they are then just putting excessive strain through the front of their ankle and foot leading to ligament strains, joint stress and bony spurs.
Area number 2 is their hip. So hip injuries are incredibly common with ballet dancers. It does tend to be a bit related to the sway back posture I just talked about as it’s all to do with their gluteal strength. Most dancers struggle to effectively use their gluteals and instead rely on their back muscles (thus the sway back posture).
This difficulty to rotate the pelvis backwards also means their pelvis bone and hip bone are resting hard on each other at the front. Once a dancer goes up onto pointe this puts even more pressure on the bone and can cause cartilage damage and bony spurs. From a functional sense it also tends to make them overbalance forwards.
Area number 3 is the knee. Great dancers tend to be naturally hypermobile people. This helps them get into all kinds of great positions which is the stuff that spectators like myself love to watch. Unfortunately all this hypermobility does mean they need extra strength to control this movement. At the knee we want young dancers to not stand with their knees locked out and hyper-extended.
If they are hyper-extended it makes it much harder for them to use their calf muscle to get into demi or pointe positions. If they do then get up it also makes it much harder to balance as their knee can’t perform any small correcting movements to maintain their balance and we never want our dancers to fall over.
Area number 4 is the ankle and calf. To safely get on pointe it’s important that you have enough plantarflexion in your ankle and that you have the strength to get all the way up there. Calf raises would have to be one of the most poorly taught exercises in the world and when they are taught badly they are easy and predispose you to ankle sprains, knee pain and hip pain. It is super important that you can do a calf raise where your weight comes up and over the base of your big toe.
Once you’ve mastered this then you need to work on the endurance and speed so that you can do it at dance pace and then doing it in all your different foot positions – think of those ballerinas bouncing quickly up and down off pointe purely through their incredibly strong calf muscles. What I often see with dancers who have been on pointe for a while but can’t correctly do a calf raise is that they tend to try and balance over their outer foot instead of their big toe when on pointe causing them to get more foot pain and cramping.
Area number 5 is the foot which is what is most closely looked at when you are getting your pointe shoes fitted. Doming your foot is incredibly important aesthetically but also to ensure your foot is taking the load in pointe as best as it possibly can. There are several muscles we target to get a great doming shape and of course once we get that shape we need to work on the endurance to ensure the dancer can maintain the control through a whole practice session and performance. Poor doming of the foot can predispose them at times to more stress fractures through the foot.
If you want to reduce the risk of your young dancer getting injured and want to see them excel in pointe shoes then we are here to help. It is our passion at Elite Physiotherapy to help as many people as possible live the lives they want without the disability and burden of pain.
Here’s what you can do next. Give us a call on (07) 4999 9773 so we can team you up with a physio who wants you to succeed or click here to book online. Make sure you mention this blog to receive your first consultation gap free (or 50% off for no private health fund).