By Elisabeth Murphy, PT, DPT
We’ve all done it, landed incorrectly out of a leap, pushed for that last pirouette on pointe, missed that “over the top” in tap class. Next thing you know…ouch!
When a dancer “rolls” or sprains an ankle, the muscles and ligaments (the tissue which holds one bone to another) can become inflamed and irritated. Swelling, pain, and inability to return to class or performance can result. All of these things are scary for both young and experienced dancers.
What should I do first?
The acronym “RICE” can help dancers manage a new ankle sprain
Rest - hold off on classes, performances and other activities while your ankle sprain heals
Ice/Cold – ice your ankle for 20-30 minute periods throughout the day. This helps reduce swelling and pain
Compression – use an ace bandage or ankle support to help reduce swelling and improve comfort with walking and daily activity
Elevation - keep your ankle elevated above the level of your heart. This also helps reduce swelling
Should I go to the doctor?
Most dancers can manage an ankle sprain on their own with conservative treatments like “RICE”. You should see a doctor if you are unable to put weight on your foot 24 hours after injury OR if your ankle isn’t getting better after 10 days.
When can I dance again?
Before returning to class or performances, you should be able to…
1. Walk without a limp
2. Flex, point and circle your injured ankle in the same range of motion as your uninjured ankle (equal ankle flexibility)
3. Be able to hop on one foot, jump, and run without increased pain
4. Have near - equal strength in both ankles
What if it doesn’t get better? I can’t do all of those things and it’s been weeks!
A visit to the doctor is in order. There are many reasons why a sprained ankle doesn’t get better on it’s own, including more injury to the ligaments of the ankle or injury to the small nerves in the foot and ankle. If a dancer lacks strength or flexibility in an ankle, this may also slow recovery.
What can I do to make sure I don’t sprain or hurt my ankle again?
Strength and balance training may reduce future ankle sprains. Wearing a brace or taping your ankle also helps. It is important to make sure all muscles of the leg and trunk are strong and balanced. If a dancer compensates for weak hip or trunk muscles with bad mechanics, they may risk future ankle sprains or other injuries.
Land those leaps, push for that last pirouette, tap with confidence. Make sure your leg, hip, and trunk muscles are strong and balanced. These strategies and proper dance technique will help you avoid injuries in classes and performances. If you sprain an ankle, see if “RICE” helps you reduce swelling and make a full recovery. And of course, don’t hesitate to see a doctor if your injury persists.
Leanderson J, Eriksson E, Nilsson C, Wykman A. Proprioception in classical ballet dancers. A prospective study of the influence of an ankle sprain on proprioception of the ankle joint. Am J Sports Med. 1996;24(3):370-374.
Lephart SM, Pincivero, DM, Giraldo JL, Fu FH. The role of proprioception in the management and rehabilitation of athletic injuries. Am J Sports Med. 1997;25:130-137.
Magee DJ. (2008). Orthopedic Physical Assessment (5th ed). St. Louis, MO: Saunders Elsevier
Sti, McKnight RD, Greenberg GH, et al. Implementation of the Ottawa Ankle Rules. JAMA 1994; 271:827-832.
*Disclaimer: The information contained within this blog post is not intended as a substitute or replacement for evaluation from a doctor or healthcare provider. If you have concerns, please seek medical care from a certified practitioner.