I've been dealing with stress fractures in my shins for several months and they just won't heal, even after taking six weeks off. I started dancing again a month ago, and it's still very painful. What can I do to speed my recovery and start dancing full-out again? —Julia
Have patience—stress fractures in the shins are very difficult to heal. "The shin naturally weight-bears 90 percent of our weight," says athletic trainer Bené Barrera. She notes that if you've taken six weeks off, it typically takes six to eight weeks to safely resume your normal training routine. Your pain could be a sign that you're dancing too much too soon or that you need more time to rest. "Some fractures do better with 8 to 10 weeks off," says Barrera.
To stay in shape as you heal, try practicing barre in a pool. "It naturally displaces weight, which instantly reduces stress on the limb," says Barrera. I spent several weeks doing pool barre during my stress fracture recovery, and it helped me retain my technique, pain-free. Pilates and floor barre can also help you stay conditioned and address muscular imbalances as you prepare to go back to class.
To really heal, however, you need to address why you developed the stress fractures. Often it's a mix of culprits, including repetitive activity (like jumping), faulty technique (rolling in, forced turnout), poor nutrition, overly hard floors or ill-fitting shoes. "Stress fractures are multi-dimensional," says Barrera. "We address technique 'cheats,' muscle-group imbalances, nutritional needs and the ability to handle certain loads." Work closely with a physical therapist and your ballet teacher to ensure that you're strengthening the right areas and not falling into old habits. And communicate clearly with your medical team. "Follow-up visits are key to knowing when the body is able to progress without further complication," says Barrera.
Have a question? Send it to Pointe editor in chief and former dancer Amy Brandt at firstname.lastname@example.org.