I just found out I fractured my talus (ankle) and can’t dance for 4-6 weeks. How should I ease my way into dance after my doctor gives me the okay? —Emily, Winchester, VA
You’re wise to want to ease back into shape, because bone injuries need plenty of time to heal. I had a fractured ankle once, so I know from experience! Since your talus is a weight bearing bone, you’ll probably be off your feet for a while. I asked Michael Leslie, a physical therapist on staff with the San Francisco Ballet, for some expert advice. He recommends doing floor barre as a way to stay active during your time off. “It’s non-weight-bearing, and you’ll have a stronger core when you come back,” he says.
You can start adding cross-training activities, like Pilates and Thera-Band exercises, when your doctor gives you clearance. Once the bone is healed, try a standing barre. “Use pain as your guide,” says Leslie, “gradually increasing the level of difficulty over time.” If you have access to a pool, try giving yourself barre in the water—I found pool barre especially helpful when I was recovering from my injury because gravity is less of a factor. Once you feel stronger, gradually begin center exercises. Listen to your body, and stop if your ankle begins to hurt. It’s tempting to want to push through the pain, but you could jeopardize the healing process.
Leslie advises you to stretch carefully. You can stretch your hips, hamstrings and quads, but avoid overstretching the calf muscle and ankle. Instead, try gently flexing the foot, using the muscles in front of your shin with both a bent and straight leg to get a moderate stretch. He also recommends the doming exercise (see “Ask Amy” June/July ‘09) to strengthen your foot’s intrinsic muscles. “Doming strengthens the muscles right around the ankle joint, but doesn’t put excess stress on it,” he says.
Be patient—you will probably feel weaker as you start back, and you might get frustrated easily. Certain steps are also scary if they irritate your foot, but try not to start compensating. For instance, I had an awful time with pirouettes to the left when I came back from my stress fracture. It took me a while to work through the fear and turn properly again. Stay focused with your strengthening exercises and listen to your body. With time, you’ll come back a smarter and stronger dancer.
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