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Running shoes cause cramps in dancers?


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I have been dancing since January and am currently taking 3-4 ballet classes a week. At times (depending on work and life schedules), I have also taken a little bit of Jazz, Hip Hop, and Belly Dance classes. As you know, this translates into a lot of time spent in bare feet. A few months ago I started running and have had a very hard time with running shoes. It seems that most shoes, even ones that have been professionally fit based on my foot profile, fatigue my legs and ankles very quickly and sometimes cause cramps. The only shoes I can run in are Nike Frees, which are very soft and flexible.


I couldn't find any answers to why this may be, until I remembered that I used to get cramps when dancing with shoes in Zumba classes. My theory is that because I dance in bare feet so frequently, my feet have a hard time adjusting to athletic movements that are hampered by stiff running shoes. Do any of you dancers have this sort of experience with athletic shoes? Is my theory viable in any way, or am I completely off base?


Thanks for any insight! I've been frustrated with this problem for a very long time!

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Ballet has made my feet a lot stronger - I used to suffer a lot from fallen arches. Since they've got stronger I do prefer a more flexible sole, and have found rigid soles less comfortable to wear. Rigid trainers make me cramp more on the outside edge of my foot. It's like the shoes don't allow you to work through your foot.


There's been a lot of buzz about barefoot running lately. The Nike Frees you use were specifically designed to mimic the experience of barefoot running; there's an article on them here:



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Where exactly do you get the cramps? In your calves, hamstrings, or arches? Do you get the cramps wearing ballet shoes too?

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When I was taking Zumba and wearing shoes, I would get cramps along the side of my feet - that was in both Nike Frees and Bloch dance shoes.


When I'm running, I get severe fatigue in my ankles, the backs and fronts of my calf muscles, and sometimes my thighs within a few tenths of a mile. I would describe the problem as more of an intense fatigue and tightening than a true cramp. At one particular occasion, my legs below the knee felt HOT, the same way they feel warm once I've warmed up, but many degrees warmer, as if I were in 110 heat - but just below the knee!

I feel the fatigue within two tenths of a mile, it is strong enough to change my running stride within five tenths of a mile, and I'm tired enough that I have to quit around seven tenths of a mile. As soon as I take my shoes off and run barefoot, the fatigue disappears, although I do feel some amount of soreness in those areas the next day.


I knew nothing about barefoot running when I bought the Frees. I have since done some research and understand the concept. It makes sense that shoes made to mimic barefoot running would suit a dancer who is frequently barefoot.



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A few thoughts-

Nerve compression of some sort that shows up when compressed by shoes


Not being warmed up enough

Technique issues


It would be interesting to have someone check your gait, and evaluate you for pronation. Perhaps there is a professional ballet company nearby who can recommend a PT?


As far as the technique issues, and whether you're properly warm, that would depend upon your training and whether the teachers are educated enough about how to properly warm-up a body, and how to teach technique.

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I only have problems when I run in a specific type of running shoes. I don't get any kind of cramps or fatigue in any dance classes (with the exception of Zumba, when I get cramps from wearing padded, structured dance shoes).


I did get fitted for my running shoes. I have a very neutral foot, so there are no pronation issues. At first I thought the fatigue was caused by not properly warming up, so I made sure to warm up properly the next time, but I still had the same issues. I'm wondering if other dancers have a problem wearing athletic shoes since they dance barefoot constantly, but that doesn't seem to be the case.


Thanks for your help!

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Did you jog/run before you started ballet? To me it sounds like you just might not have the strength in the right muscles yet for running, which is causing you to fatigue. I used to run 4 miles daily, and danced 6 classes per week and never had any problems with running shoes. I don't know about the barefoot running. I don't run anymore but I would think that it would not necessarily be good for your feet to run barefoot in the street because of the dirt and junk (so you'd be limited) and I was always told to get good running shoes because you need the support due to the constant high impact on concrete. If you are running on the beach in sand, that's another story. For the zumba, maybe loosen your laces. I have some jazz sneakers that I wear that used to bother and fatigue my feet, until I just loosened the laces. That gave me the support I needed but no cramps, fatigue or pain from them.

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I started running about 6 months after starting ballet. I wore Nike Frees and never had any issues with fatigue at all and was up to 4-4.5 mile runs with no fatigue. It wasn't until I switched to a more structured shoe that I started having issues, which is why it seems so strange to me. Also, I can't imagine that my muscles would be so weak (especially the calves and ankles, which get a good workout in ballet) that they couldn't carry me any more than a half a mile.


Perhaps it has to do with moving from a less structured shoe to a more structured shoe and is unrelated to my dance.

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^^I think you are right. The coordination for the muscles I think is a little different for running and ballet though. You strengthen with ballet but it is not the same continuous movement and use of the same muscles constantly as running.


I read the information you posted about those Nike Frees and I think it is the shoe switch and not the ballet. According to that site it takes people a while to get used to running in the Frees because they are soft. It says people who are runners at first will try the Frees and they can't run in them, they have to work up to it and get their feet used to them. I think your foot is now accustomed to running in those Frees and since you started running in them (instead of in a regular running shoe) your foot does not know how to run in the hard shoes. I don't think it is the ballet. I think if you had started running in regular running shoes you would not have this issue because your feet would not have become used to this "barefoot" running that the Frees simulate. They would have conformed to the hard shoes. Why don't you just run all the time in the Frees since they work for you now?

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I'm definitely going back to the Frees and I'm trying out some other similar shoes as well.


I am a snowboarder and have never had any issues with fatigue. My feet do cramp up when the boots fit incorrectly, which is totally normal. I don't do any skating, nor do I do anything on the elliptical.


I think if my fatigue issues were strictly ballet related, others on this board must have had the same experience. Since that is not the case, something else may be going on. I was dancing quite a bit this summer (anywhere from 1-4 hours per day), so the fatigue from that compounded with the different kind of shoe may be a factor.

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Does the fatigue in the legs go away when you stop running?


In regards to the cramping, how much water do you drink on a regular basis, and also before/during/after exercising?

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I don't drink enough water before exercise - that could be a contributing factor as well.


The fatigue goes away immediately when I stop running in those shoes. I can even take my shoes off when I feel the fatigue and run barefoot on the treadmill with none of the same problems (although running barefoot exacerbates soreness in the top of my foot from ballet, so I can't do that for long either).

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In that case, my suspicion is a compartment syndrome. The structures of the lower leg are contained in what are called compartments - basically a wall of fascia. There are four compartments in the lower leg. Repetitive stress (such as running) can cause the lower leg muscles to swell, and compress the other structures in the compartment - veins, arteries, nerves. When you stop doing whatever is making it happen, the symptoms go away. When you resume, they come back. This condition can be especially prevalent following a sudden increase in activity, such as adding ballet classes to your routine. One major indicator of compartment syndrome is that the leg is disproportionately painful to touch in the area of the affected compartment when symptoms are present. Ring any bells?


If this is, in fact, a compartment syndrome, one thing you should know is that the usual RICE approach (or at least the -ICE part; rest is perfectly fine) is not advised. The pressure from muscular swelling is already compromising circulation to the lower leg and foot and these practices will only exacerbate the condition and could lead to tissue death. The usual forms of treatment are rest, activity modification, evaluating footwear and possibly prescribing orthotics. I would highly recommend seeing an orthopedist and/or physical therapist, especially one who treats a lot of runners or military recruits, as these are two populations in which compression syndrome is prevalent.


As for water... drink more! If you are experiencing muscle cramps, fatigue and dehydration are two of the major causes - and of course they often go together. The latest rule of thumb out there for daily intake is to take your weight in pounds and divide by two to get the number of ounces you should be aiming for daily. And that's when you are not exercising.

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I guess that could be it, but I have had no pain in my legs, with the exception of minor shin splints. None at all.


Definitely need to drink more water!! Thanks for the advice on quantity- I didn't know that.

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