It Takes More Than the Luck of the Irish to Keep Irish Step Dancers on Their Toes

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The California Podiatric Medical Association provides tips on preventing foot and ankle injuries in Irish Step Dancing

California Podiatric Medical Association

California Podiatric Medical Association

Your feet shouldn't hurt!

With St. Patrick’s Day just around the corner, it’s time to breakout the green vest along with grandma’s Irish soda bread recipe, and dust-off the bagpipes (yes, Irish bagpipes) and the well-worn DVD of Riverdance, the international stage phenomena which showcased Irish Step Dancing and catapulted it into worldwide popularity.

Called a fusion of the pirouettes of ballet and the percussion of tap dancing, Irish Step Dancing is known for its upright posture, straight arms, and rapid-fire foot movements.

“Irish Step Dancing is a dynamic, high impact dance form,” said podiatric foot and ankle specialist Ami Sheth, DPM. “The extraordinary leaps and kicks of the dancers places a tremendous amount of force on the lower extremities, especially on the foot and ankle. For example, one report found that a popular Irish Step Dance moved called The Rock Step put the ankles under pressure 14x the body weight of the dancer, which is greater than the forces experienced by jet fighters.1

“In The Rock Step, the legs are crossed at the ankles, locking them together; the dancer then rises to their toes and does a lateral (side-to-side) rock-roll movement where the ankle is rolled so far laterally that it nearly lays on its side. The Rock Step puts an enormous amount of pressure on the bones, ligaments, muscles, joints, and tendons of the foot and ankle, and with each foot containing 26 bones, 33 joints, 19 muscles, and 57 ligaments, there are numerous opportunities for injury and damage to occur,” said Dr. Sheth, a podiatric physician and surgeon who has treated Irish Step dancers in her private practice in the Silicon Valley city of Los Gatos, California.

“Most Irish Step dancer injuries result from overuse. Some of the most common Irish Step Dance foot and ankle injuries include: stress fractures, ankle sprains, Achilles tendonitis (inflammation of the Achilles tendon, the band of tissue that connects your calf muscles to your heel bone; this tendon is used when you walk, run, jump or push up on your toes), plantar fasciitis (inflammation of a thick band of tissue that runs across the bottom of the foot and connects the heel bone to the toes), and blisters,” says Dr. Sheth.

Dr. Sheth provided the following tips to help prevent foot and ankle injuries in Irish Step Dancing:

“Warm Up BEFORE: Take time to thoroughly warm and loosen your body before class, rehearsal, and performances.

“Take a Break: Allow the body adequate time to rest and heal from the daily wear and tear from strenuous dance classes or rehearsals.

“Wear Proper Footwear: Proper fitting shoes are critical. Have shoes professionally fitted for the correct size, shoe type, and structure of the dancer’s foot. The closer the inside shape of the shoe to your foot, the less space for friction and rubbing between the foot and the shoe, which means fewer blisters. Socks or other padding (moleskin or medical tape) can help to create comfort, absorb sweat and smell (cotton is more absorbent), and can help to minimize the foot and toes rubbing directly on very stiff shoes. Experiment with removable insoles, cushioned soles, and cushioned socks to see what works best. Also, wear supportive footwear outside of the studio to protect feet.

“Buff Up: Build strength in the feet and ankles, as well as the hips and core.

“If it Hurts, STOP!: Immediately stop activity if pain or swelling occurs. As with any injury that involves inflammation, apply the RICE treatment protocol:

  • Rest. Rest and protect the injured or sore area. Stop, change, or take a break from any activity that may be causing you pain or soreness.
  • Ice. Cold will reduce pain and swelling. Apply an ice or cold pack right away to prevent or minimize swelling. Apply the ice or cold pack for 10 to 20 minutes, 3 or more times a day. After 48 to 72 hours, if swelling is gone, apply heat to the area that hurts. Do not apply ice or heat directly to the skin. Place a towel over the cold or heat pack before applying it to the skin.
  • Compression. Compression, or wrapping the injured or sore area with an elastic bandage, will help decrease swelling. Don't wrap it too tightly, because this can cause more swelling below the affected area. Loosen the bandage if it gets too tight. Signs that the bandage is too tight include numbness, tingling, increased pain, coolness, or swelling in the area below the bandage.
  • Elevation. Elevate the injured or sore area on pillows while applying ice and anytime you are sitting or lying down. Try to keep the area at or above the level of your heart to help minimize swelling.

“A nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) like aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen may help to relieve pain and swelling. Consult a podiatric foot and ankle specialist if symptoms persist after a few days to determine the extent of the injuries and recommend an appropriate course of treatment.

“Maintain Healthy Feet: With Irish Step Dancers’ feet constantly under excessive pressure, strong healthy feet are a MUST. To help ensure healthy feet, dancers should be seen by a podiatric foot and ankle specialist on a regular basis. A podiatric physician can identify underlying issues and provide treatment options to help alleviate any foot and ankle problems the dancer might be experiencing. Early intervention by a knowledgeable, trained medical specialist is crucial.”

To find a local licensed podiatric foot and ankle specialist please visit CalPMA.org

1 Calculation of muscle loading and joint contact forces during the rock step in Irish dance.
James Shippen, Barbara May, Coventry University
Journal of Dance and Medicine 2010

Founded in 1912, the California Podiatric Medical Association (CPMA) is leading and recognized professional organization for doctors of podiatric medicine (DPMs). DPMs are podiatric physicians and surgeons, also known as podiatrists, qualified by their education, training and experience to diagnose and treat conditions affecting the foot, ankle and structures of the leg.

CPMA, KEEPING CALIFORNIANS ON THEIR FEET – HEALTHY, ACTIVE AND PRODUCTIVE

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