You know the clichéd question: If you could go back in time and tell your younger self one thing, what would it be? At the moment, I would very much like to go back eight months in time and beg that naive version of myself to meet with a physical therapist before diving back into rigorous training. Maybe then I wouldn’t be dealing with an annoying (albeit relatively minor) toe injury that’s stalling some of my progress.
Alas, time travel has not been mastered just yet, and all I can do is share my experience with you. Hopefully you will all be wiser than me and return to your training (or continue it) hiccup-free.
Back in October 2021, I started to feel a bit of irritation in my right big toe while on relevé. I only really noticed it while doing left en dehors pirouettes, balancing on my right foot or dancing in my LaDuca heels—and even then, it didn’t bother me too much. So I decided I’d write it off as a normal ache and pain that would go away on its own.
Spoiler alert: It did not go away on its own.
Fast-forward to February 2022: I began taking full ballet classes in my pointe shoes and finished each class with throbbing pain. My podiatrist took an X-ray and determined that the toe isn’t fractured (phew!), but thought that I might have tendinitis. Ice, rest and a cortisone shot did nothing to improve my pain, and he finally recommended that I see a physical therapist. Cue Heidi Green, the magical unicorn therapist in New York City who specializes in dancers. (She even worked as the therapist on the Lion King tour at one point!)
It didn’t take much time in Heidi’s office before she knew two things: One, there were many funky things happening in my body that she thought were contributing to my injury; and two, she wanted me to take some time off from relevé and jumps. Ugh.
When I asked her if I could have done anything differently to prevent this she said, “If someone is returning to dance after a long break, it is definitely ideal to get a screening or an evaluation by a PT to detect any potential imbalances or precursors to injury.” Of course, that won’t be financially realistic for many people—frankly, I would have put myself in that camp. But I got injured and was forced to go to PT anyway, so I suppose it’s sixes in the end.
The second thing we all know I could have done differently? Say it with me now!
“GET TREATMENT AS SOON AS YOU FEEL UNUSUAL PAIN! WAITING FOR CARE ONLY EXTENDS THE RECOVERY PROCESS AND MAKES YOU FEEL SAD!”
The Treatment Plan
Though Heidi thinks it’s possible that I have tendinitis, she also thinks there are likely a variety of problems that could be contributing to the problem. Therefore, she is looking at my body holistically and recommending treatments that go beyond my right foot.
Once a week for the foreseeable future, Heidi wants me to go into her office for a variety of assessments and treatments, including soft-tissue mobilization, joint mobilization, asymmetry corrections and strength training. “Anywhere up the chain of that leg that’s injured, I’m working to correct those asymmetries,” she says.
Between visits, she gives me homework. So far that includes massage, TheraBand foot exercises, weightless relevés (I sit in a chair with my feet on the ground and a ball between my knees while I raise and lower my heels), clamshells (an exercise where you lie on your side in the fetal position and open and close your top leg) and icing my toe.
The Bad News
Heidi doesn’t want me jumping until my toe feels better. Which makes me spiral into an everlasting pit of darkness because I’ve already spent 10 years off of dancing, and any additional time feels like an eternity. Too much? All right, I will tone down the drama.
Hopefully, addressing and treating the challenges within my entire body will make me a stronger dancer as well as help heal my toe, and it will all be worth it in the end. Everything happens for a reason, right? Man, I hope so!