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Does ballet damage your feet?

Ballet is a beautiful but demanding art form that requires strength, flexibility, and grace from the dancers. The intense training and repetitive motions involved in ballet can put a lot of strain on a dancer’s body, especially the feet. Many people wonder if practicing ballet can actually damage the feet over time.

The stresses on a ballet dancer’s feet

Ballet dancers are constantly putting their feet under immense pressure and stress. Here are some of the main sources of strain:

  • Dancing en pointe – Dancing on the tips of the toes in pointe shoes forces dancers to bear their full body weight on a tiny platform at the tip of the foot. This places extreme strain on the bones, joints, and ligaments.
  • Repetitive impact – Leaping and landing repeatedly during jumps and turns sends shockwaves through the feet and legs.
  • Twisting the feet – Rotating the feet and ankles through unnatural motions required by some steps puts strain on the tendons and ligaments.
  • Tight, restrictive shoes – Pointe shoes and soft ballet slippers hug the foot extremely tightly to provide support, which reduces blood flow.

Common foot injuries in ballet dancers

The intense demands of ballet lead to a high rate of foot injuries among dancers. Some common foot problems include:

  • Blisters – Friction from shoes causes surface blisters to form.
  • Calluses – Thickened, hardened areas of skin develop in response to repeated pressure and friction.
  • Corns – Small, hardened lumps of skin form, usually on toes.
  • Bunions – Misalignment of the big toe joint causing a bony bump.
  • Hammertoes – Toes becoming permanently bent due to muscle/tendon imbalance.
  • Stress fractures – Small cracks or severe bruising in the bones of the foot.
  • Plantar fasciitis – Inflammation of the plantar fascia tissue on the bottom of the foot.
  • Tendonitis – Swelling and irritation of the tendons, often the Achilles tendon.
  • Sprained or broken ankles – Twisting or rolling the ankles during jumps and turns.
  • Neuromas – Thickened nerve tissue between toes, causing pain.

These injuries can range from mild to severely debilitating and are very common among ballet dancers. Studies show over 90% of ballet dancers suffer from chronic foot injuries and pain.

Long term damage

With proper care and training, many foot injuries heal completely and do not cause lasting damage. However, ballet does carry some risks of permanent alterations and damage to the structure and function of the feet with excessive, long-term practice:

  • Muscle/tendon imbalance – Certain muscles can become overdeveloped while others become underdeveloped and tight.
  • Reduced arch height – The arch can flatten from repeated compression.
  • Toe deformities – Toes become misaligned and bent into unnatural positions.
  • Arthritis – Years of wear and tear leads to joint stiffness, inflammation, and bone spurs.
  • Chronic instability – Ligaments loosen over time, causing chronic looseness and ankle sprains.
  • Nerve damage – Impaired sensation and coordination in the feet.

These changes are most likely to occur with poor training technique, insufficient rest for injuries, dancing through pain, and failing to address improper alignment or imbalance.


Many foot problems associated with ballet can be avoided with proper preventative measures:

  • Wear properly fitted shoes.
  • Strengthen feet and ankles.
  • Stretch and warm-up thoroughly.
  • Cross-train to prevent overuse.
  • Use orthotics and padding.
  • Treat injuries completely before returning.
  • Have a physical therapist correct imbalance or technique problems.

Taking these preventative steps can prolong a ballet dancer’s career and allow them to continue dancing for many years without chronic pain or permanent damage.


Ballet dancers have access to specialized medical care to help treat and manage foot injuries:

  • Physical therapy – Stretching, massage, ice/heat treatments, ultrasound therapy, custom orthotics.
  • Anti-inflammatories – Oral medication or injections to reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Surgery – In severe cases, surgery may be required to correct deformity or repair damaged structures.
  • Extended rest – Taking time completely off from dancing to allow structures to heal.
  • Technique adjustment – Changing stance or mechanics of movement to prevent re-injury.
  • Career change – Transitioning to a less demanding style of dance or retiring from dance.

With proper rest and recovery time, many foot injuries heal well and allow dancers to return to their full capabilities. However, some injuries may be career-ending if they inhibit essential foot and ankle functions needed for ballet.

Foot care tips

Here are some best practices dancers can follow to care for their feet:

  • Soak feet in Epsom salt baths to reduce soreness.
  • Use ice packs after dancing to control inflammation.
  • Wear compression socks to increase circulation and reduce swelling.
  • Get regular deep tissue massages to keep muscles loose.
  • Use foot rollers and spiky balls to massage arches and toes.
  • Apply moisturizing creams to prevent cracked skin.
  • File calluses gently with a pumice stone or callus shaver.
  • See a podiatrist regularly for proper nail trimming and orthotics.
  • Use toe spacers to help correct toe deformities.
  • Wear properly fitted street shoes with good support when not dancing.

The pros and cons of ballet for feet

There are both advantages and disadvantages to ballet when it comes to foot health:


  • Increases flexibility, mobility, and range of motion in the ankles and toes.
  • Builds strength and stability in the intrinsic muscles of the feet.
  • Develops balance, body awareness, and proprioception.
  • Can help correct pronation problems or flat feet.


  • High risk of overuse injuries, especially when training is too aggressive.
  • Can cause muscle imbalance between toes and arches.
  • Unnatural foot positions can cause bunions, hammertoes, and other deformities.
  • Pointe work compresses toes and limits circulation.

If practiced conservatively and with proper precautions, ballet can have some benefits for foot strength and flexibility. However, dancers must be very cautious to avoid overuse injuries and long term damage.

Healthy feet best practices for ballet dancers

Here are some top tips for keeping feet as healthy as possible while dancing ballet:

  • Progress pointe work slowly and cautiously after bones stop growing.
  • Limit time danced in pointe shoes each day/week.
  • Rotate between two pairs of pointe shoes to allow them to fully dry out and recover their shape between wears.
  • Attend pilates or yoga classes to complement ballet and prevent imbalance.
  • Choose quality pointe shoes from a reputable dance supplier and make sure they are professionally fitted.
  • Apply toe pads, spacers, or lambswool to distribute pressure across toes and cushions areas of friction.
  • Listen to your body – never dance through sharp pain.
  • Take time off and seek medical care if you experience any foot injury or pain that lasts more than a few days or keeps recurring.

With smart training and care, ballet dancers can protect their feet and enjoy long careers free of chronic pain and permanent damage. While some degree of wear and tear may be inevitable, following best practices minimizes the risks. Most importantly, pay close attention to warning signs from your feet and don’t hesitate to seek medical help and take time off when needed. With patience and prevention, it is possible to both pursue rigorous ballet training and maintain healthy happy feet.


Ballet puts an immense amount of strain on dancers’ feet with its demands for strength, flexibility, balance, and exaggerated foot positions. The repetitive impact, unnatural movements, restrictive footwear, and long hours of practice required to excel in ballet lead to very high rates of foot injuries and medical issues like blisters, calluses, fractures, arthritis, and deformities. However, many problems can be avoided with proper training, technique, footwear, stretching, and rest. Minor to moderate foot injuries are common but can often heal fully with adequate rest and treatment. While some degree of permanent alteration to the feet is likely with long-term ballet practice, this damage can be minimized by following safe training guidelines, listening to warning signs from the body, and seeking prompt medical help when needed. With smart prevention and care, it is possible for ballet dancers to maintain healthy feet and pursue long, successful careers in this extremely demanding art form.