Can foot stress fractures be prevented?

Stress fractures occur when normal bone has abnormal forces placed upon it or normal forces are placed upon abnormal or weak bone. Both scenarios can be seen in dancers. The repetitive nature of dance and certain choreography can predispose to injury. Areas of the body that are at particular risk for stress fractures in dancers include the metatarsals (long bones of the foot) and the tibia and fibula (lower leg bone). Stress fractures may first appear as a slow onset, low-level pain that progresses and becomes chronic. 

Controlling the extrinsic factors that contribute to increased stress on the bones includes making sure to always use proper technique, wear well fitting shoes, and avoid dancing on poor quality dance floors. 

Intrinsic factors such as the shape of your foot (high arches or flat feet) can also contribute to the risk.  Although the structure of your foot can not change, making sure that the muscles that control the foot are balanced in both length and strength can help prevent injury. It can also be very helpful to control the mechanics at your foot when you are not dancing by wearing orthotics (arch supports) in your everyday shoes.

Maintenance of overall good health should not be overlooked and is key to the prevention of stress fractures. Dancers should pay special attention to the factors that affect bone health such as adequate intake of calcium (1200-1500mg a day), vitamin D (400-800 IU a day), avoidance of carbonated beverages especially those with caffeine and appropriate calorie intake. Artistic athletes who are involved in sports that focus on physical form and physical performance are at increased risk for jeopardizing nutritional requirements in the quest for the “ideal” body image. Prevention of injury plays an important role in achieving the goal of a long and healthy dance career.


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