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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Stretches, and pressure on the achilles tendon?

Sanna Koulu

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I came up with a new silly-sounding question to which I don't know the answer.. :D


Occasionally at class we do stretches before centre work, and often the stretches include stuff for hamstrings or inner thighs, with one leg up on the barre. I always end up with my ankle on the barre, so that the weight of the leg rests on the ankle or the achilles tendon, which is uncomfortable or somewhat painful.


How ARE you supposed to place your leg on the barre? Or should I be worried about the state of my tendons, since this doesn't seem to be a problem for anyone else...?


Rather confusedly,


- Sanna

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No, that's where it's supposed to rest, Sanna.


I wonder what else is going on, that the achilles tendon should be tender? Do you experience discomfort in any other part of the class, or even out of class, where the pain is there?

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Sanna, there should be no weight or pressure in the achilles tendon. The only time this would happen is if you are doing a stretch where you move your weight into the leg that is on the barre, and then slide it forward or sideways. This stretch is NOT recommended, and one of the reasons is that pressure on the achilles. Other reasons include overstretch for anyone with any hyperextension, and dreadful rolling of the supporting leg. It's an unnecessary and potentially dangerous stretch, and the same benefit can be obtained by doing splits, where you are in control of your body weight and gravity.


If you are just placing the leg on the barre and bending, keep your body weight totally on the supporting leg and do not allow the weight to push into the achilles of the working leg.

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Thank you for the quick replies :D


I have probably put too much weight on the working leg on the barre, as you said, Ms. Leigh. In addition, I have done the slide-the-working-leg-sideways-with weight-on-it -stretches, since one of my (non-ballet) dance teachers does that. I'll be more careful from now on!


On the other hand, now I'm also worried that I've got some problem with my achilles tendons. There's been some feeling of heat and tingling at the tendons at the back of the ankles for some days, but I've just chalked it up to my poor ankles having been battered and exhausted the last few weeks. Gah. Silly me.


Mjr Mel, Ms. Leigh, at what point do you think I ought to go to the doctor? Since my tendons don't actually hurt at any time, and have felt weird just for a few days, do I have a hope of avoiding real tendinitis if I


- rest for a few days, especially from any strenuous releve work and pointing the foot too hard


- ice the ankles religiously


- try not to dance at all when the muscles in the feet and ankles are exhausted


- wear soft shoes, like dansneakers, for any classes where acceptable


- avoid hard floors


- work very carefully esp. on the plies and jumps (I have a very shallow demi-plie, so I'm afraid I've got a problem with getting my heels down every time)?


I also do Irish dance and Finnish folk dance (like polka), both of which involve jumps or leaps or hops without the heels touching the ground. Are these harmful in and of themselves?


Whew, what a lot of questions... Sorry to whine so much; I'm just awfully worried.


(I started dancing a lot more last year - from maybe 5 hours per week to 15-20 - and I also take several ballet classes where most have danced at least a year, so I work maybe too hard at those. I'm afraid I'll injure myself - but it's hard to cut down on a dancing habit :) )


Very grateful for any advice,


- Sanna

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No, no, Sanna, you're not whining! This is valuable information!


You have neatly put the first aid for "grumbling tendons" and it shows a good grasp of home care for simple complaints before they become really serious!:)


You may also want to put your feet up while you're resting them, and cushion the achilles tendon with a thick piece of wool fleece. Anyplace else, and I'd say wrap it, too, but the achilles is a funny animal and in this kind of case, may not be advisable. So just give it a "soft wrap" by resting the feet and ankles on something really soft. Even a pillow will do.


The Irish and Finnish folk dance, with jumps ending with the heels not down, could probably be aggravating the situation, but we have a couple of well-versed teachers of Irish dance as members, too, so I'll try to stir up some advice for you there. However, Finnish - please forgive my ignorance of the forms.:D

But in all character and national dance, a "stingy" plié can make things more difficult in all sorts of ways!


When you're putting the ankle onto a barre, it actually goes onto the barre at the "valley" between the ball of the ankle and the ball of the heel. It's best not to try to "hook" the barre with the heel, which puts pressure directly on the achilles, and that's what we all want to avoid. You need pretty fair extension and rotation to be able to do this correctly, so if it's not there for you yet, here is another goal. Start by using the lower barre and see if you can't get the ankle and barre into the relationship I've suggested above. When you've got that right, then take it up to the upper barre. Of course, very little weight is on the ankle, unless you're doing a port de bras over to the working leg, but there won't be any pressure at all on the achilles tendon.


Go to the doctor when you have protracted pain or discomfort which is unresponsive to the home care you've noted above. If the area feels hot to the touch when in a rested state, is red in the same condition, swells, and gives pain, then you have a full-blown infection - see a doctor immediately.

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Guest mizunotenshi

Be careful with that ice! Make sure it's only 15 minutes every hour or two, if I remember correctly... Another suggestion for you, instead of just a regular ice pack is to try ice massage.


For ice massage, get a thin, easy to tear paper cup, and fill it about half to three-quarters of the way full with water. Let it stay in the freezer, and turn to ice. Now the way to use it is to pull it out of the freezer (makes the rest a bit easier), and tear the cup from the top, and try and take off just around the top of the cup, enough so some of the ice is showing all around. You can use the cup as a handle, and just gently move the ice around the back of your tendon, the notch on the sides, and so on, for about 10 minutes. When you're done, you can even refreeze what's left, and just tear more of the cup as needed.


Also, taking some Ibuprofen (Advil), wouldn't be a bad idea. It's what is called an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug). Tylenol (acetaminophen) is only a pain killer, but NSAIDS also help inflammation go down, and may help that a bit. NSAIDS do have a few more side effects than Tylenol, but they're still rare, and mild.


Oh, and to toss my two bits in. Whenever placing my leg on the bar, I was told to try and turn it out, placing it just like Mr. Johnson suggested. Maybe that'll help.




P.S. I know a few tricks, I used to work in my High Schools Athletic Training room. My god, dealing with all the whiny football players was NOT cool... you want whining, listen to them complain over a scratch that the gymnasts would've just ignored. Those girls had more grit than any lineman....

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Hi Sanna,


I don't know if this will apply to you, but I had trouble with MY Achilles doing Irish dancing (jigs and reels, which I LOVE, it's so lilting)... since the crowd goes to a pub called the Starry Plough and the floor is concrete. I found it helped a LOT to wear shoes with well-cushioned soles, like dance sneakers, rather than hte thin shoes appropriate for Irish folk-dancing....


you mention tingling -- that sounds more like a nerve thing than tendinitis, and it could be an impact-related problem; aare you dancing on any really had floors?

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Just a further point on NSAIDs - as the name says, it's any anti-iflammatory drug that's not a steroid. The category even includes aspirin! Ibuprofen is another, and they all have different additional effects. Tylenol isn't supposed to relieve swelling, but my father responded to it that way with his arthritis, so different people may achieve different benefits.

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Thank you, folks, you are wonderful!


Thanks for the words of comfort, too - especially after reading up on tendinitis on the 'net it's easy to get all panicky.. :rolleyes: My feet are much better already, after icing and elevating and so on. (This also gives me the perfect excuse to keep my feet on my desk at work.)


Paul, I guess the Irish dancing is a factor for me, too. I've only done that on properly sprung floors, but I've been wearing only soft slippers. And it's easy to get carried away, since after beginning ballet, the soft shoe stuff has become so much lighter to do - my jumps are much higher and lighter now. On the other

hand, I have been dancing polka on concrete floors..


Mjr Mel, I have been taking ibuprofen, since I figured that any side effects are rare enough that it won't harm me, and might do some good for any inflammation in my ankles - is this correct?


Thanks again :D


- Sanna


(PS. Would any of you happen to have any advice on how to return gently to dancing? I was thinking that maybe I could go back to class in a few days, since there's no pain and little sensation of heat or anything. Is this too soon? My calves just feel tight, probably partly from the inactivity. I guess some stretching, and massage for the calf muscles, and gradually returning to full activity - and being careful from now on :D)

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If Ibuprofen gives you relief, then take it and God bless. Just be sure to follow the package's dosage information carefully.:D

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(As a quick update, it seems that I have really and truly managed to get tendinitis.


I went to the doctor yesterday, since my ankles got worse rather than better with time, and he prescribed two weeks of rest from dancing, with gradually increasing activity from then on. Blah. I'll have to cut down to 5 hours of dancing per week, even after resting, and then increase amount and intensity very gradually. I'm also supposed to take prescription NSAID's as pills and and a kind of gel for the next few weeks.)


In addition to whining, I also wanted to wake up this thread to note that dansneakers can apparently be bad for your feet. The doctor thought it probable that my Capezio Low-tops are also to blame for the inflammation, since the back of the shoe is rather high and has been rubbing the already-irrritated tendon.


However, it is quite possible to re-model at least Capezio models with good scissors and/or a small knife, strong thread and a bit of patience. What you do is cut down the back of the shoe, taking care to keep the lining as intact as possible and modeling the soft foam between the lining and the leather to the desired soft shape. The leather might be cut to maybe 1 cm (less than 1/2 ") lower than the foam. Then fold the lining over to the outside, covering the foam but taking care not to compress it into a hard ridge; stitch the lining to the leather. Ta dah, end result is a pair of perfectly reputable and non-irritating shoes :)


(Yes, I actually did that :P Unfortunately, I haven't been able to try them out yet, but they feel more comfortable and the doctor was (cautiously) in favour of this handicraft exercise :) )




- Sanna

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Hi Sanna


I would have replied earlier, but you were getting excellent advice, and I wanted to hear more before I said anything.


With regards to your ankle hurting when placing it on the barre, what you can do, is take a small towel with you and place it over the barre and then rest your foot on it. It should now be nicely cushioned, enabling you to stretch properly without hurting yourself.


Also, really warming up your feet and ankles and calf muscles prior to your barre will be good. How long is your barre?


Also, I have found it very beneficial especially when you are going to be dancing on concrete floors, to do lots and lots of plies (in wide second) on it. You really feel it in your legs thats for sure! but its easier to dance on afterwards. Thats just me though.


You don't mention in your posts above, but do you wear ribbons on any of your shoes? If so, just make sure they aren't tied too tightly, that can aggravate any problems.


Also, be careful and make sure when you are doing tendus to the front, side and especially the back, that you are not placing any weight on your working foot, this can cause problems as well.





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