I have stress fractures in my sesamoid bones and need to be off my feet for four weeks. What are the best non–weight-bearing exercises I can do to stay in ballet shape? —Lindsay
Your sesamoid bones (two tiny, pea-shaped bones under the ball of the foot that act as a pulley for the big toe tendons) are a point of contact with the floor, so it's important to avoid bearing weight on the front of the foot while they heal. But that doesn't mean you can't continue conditioning your body. In fact, this is an excellent opportunity to work on core strengthening.
According to Emily Sandow, PT, DPT, OCS, at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at New York University Langone Medical Center, floor barre is an excellent way to stay in shape. "It's basically taking what you do in class and putting it on the floor," says Sandow. If you've seen A Ballerina's Tale, you'll recall that floor barre classes with Marjorie Liebert were a huge part of Misty Copeland's recovery from shin fractures. If you need guidance, there are plenty of floor barre classes available on DVD and YouTube—look for ones taught by Liebert, Zena Rommett and Stéphane Dalle.
Supplementary somatics can help, too. When I was sidelined with a stress fracture in my ankle, I stayed conditioned with Pilates mat and reformer classes. Gyrotonic is another great option for dancers. As for cardiovascular exercise? "Swimming is fantastic because you're able to do big motions without worrying about load bearing," says Sandow. The stationary bicycle is another option, but use your mid-foot or heel to pedal.
"Let pain be your guide," says Sandow. "If it hurts, stop." Once you're able to start taking barre, pace yourself. Stress fractures are overuse injuries, often aggravated by a high-pressure lifestyle, poor diet and irregular menstruation. Use this time off not only to heal, but also to check in with your work and eating habits.
Have a question? Send it to Pointe editor and former dancer Amy Brandt—she might answer it in an upcoming issue!