I recently was just speaking with a friend from my former company Carolina Ballet about her frustrating foot pain. Well, let me tell you, I could be a doctor by now with all the foot issues I've had in my career. I now know all that fancy medical terminology after spending hours on google understanding about the foot's anatomy. My self diagnoses were actually almost right on to the point of having once a doctor call me his "fellow colleague". I probably was a surgeon in my past life if it exists. Little, I was an expert at the Operation game. ;) 🏥
I created this blog to help and touch hopefully some of you experiencing similar issues so I will tell you a "scary" tale of 4 short stories haha with the solutions which helped me.
Let's go way back to when I was 16... I was trying on newly bought pointe shoes at home and dancing around with them in my bathroom (don't judge, full length mirror spot!), forced my right arch over to "break them in" and felt a little click at the back of my heel. From then on, the pain just consistently grew. Everyday a bit more. At first, I went to go see local doctors who weren't very familiar with ballerinas' feet & ankles, had X-Rays done but nobody seemed to be alarmed. At 17, I was accepted to English National Ballet School to my utmost joy. After graduating high school in France, I moved to London. I was so excited but I went from doing 6h of ballet a week to 6h a day!!! My pain just intensified so quickly. I went to see the Physical Therapist on site and he was the one who first uttered the possibility of having an extra bone in my ankle. We did an X-Ray (again) with a reputable English surgeon and there it was: a bone as big as Captain's Hook! Forming edemas and slicing of my posterior tibial tendon. This "Os Trigonum" needed to be removed as well as a repair of a very damaged tendon. I could barely use my big toe without causing a pit in my stomach. So we did... My parents drove me back home to France after surgery and took great care of me.
Let's fast forward now to 2010... I was just promoted to Soloist and was casted in La Sylphide as Effie! One morning I was in our regular warm up class, I was healthy for once, not in much pain. Our pliés started, I did my first demi-plié in first position and felt a shift in my mid-foot on the inside. I didn't think much of it and went on with my day. But the pain each day got a little worse. I had never experienced anything in that region of my foot. My physical therapist (and dear friend Rebecca) and I decided I should get an MRI. It turned out I had a half an inch tear of the posterior tibial tendon at the attachment of the navicular bone??? I tried everything to alleviate the pain but nothing worked. I still went through La Sylphide as I wanted to perform Effie so much... Then the fashionable boot had to be worn!
After I was done with the shows I went to see my orthopedic surgeon to discuss a plan. While in the waiting room, I saw a pamphlet on a new treatment called a Platelet Rich Plasma Injection... I mentioned it to him as it seemed ideal for what I had. He agreed and said we should surely try it. PRP injection consists in drawing your blood, centrifuge it to separate the rich from the poor plasma and reinject the good plasma directly into the damaged tissue.
For my injury, it was miraculous. Well, not the injection itself, that was PAAIIIINNFUL and I'm no wuss. But 3 weeks later, I started rehearsing for Sleeping Beauty!! Just unbelievable...
Following, in 2012... We had a program in March of 5 ballets. 3 Balanchine rarities (Minkus, Glinka and A la Françaix), a ballet from Lynne Taylor Corbett on the gripping American Suite by composer Dvorak and a ballet made on me by artistic director Robert Weiss. I was in all 5... I was exhausted and the last Sunday rehearsal day before going into the theater, during morning class I did a brisé backwards, my foot landed somewhat twisted, I heard a "snap" and collapsed. It was the first time I had experienced anything like that. Everyone in class heard it and kindly surrounded me to help. The pain was minor at first and I could somewhat put my foot down. 30 mins later it all changed... I couldn't walk and that throbbing feeling was like my heart was in my foot! I was taken to the PT Rebecca and we called for me to be seen right away. Verdict may you wonder? Well I had broken my 5th metatarsal, an avulsion fracture. As my foot twisted, my Brevis tendon pulled on the base of the bone and cracked it.. The doctor said if it would have been half a centimeter lower, I would have needed surgery and probably screws!😱😱😱
What helped speed up my recovery were, apart from good sleep and nutrition, homeopathy and Calcium supplements. (both great for metatarsal stress fracture as well):
- 2 homeopathic remedies:
I was advised to take 5 pellets twice a day for a week. Take the pellets away from food (15 mins at least) and away from mint to insure its total effects. I am obviously not a doctor or a homeopath so make sure to be followed by a professional.
- Calcium supplement with Vit D and K:
Vitamin K and D are necessary for better calcium absorption.
Refer to your doctor and bottle prescription for optimum results.
Try to find supplements that are nature based. It's always better assimilated by your body.
Last but not least and certainly the most complicated... I think I needed Sherlock Holmes to figure out that one. Again, one morning in warm up class in Sept 2014, we were doing temps liés at barre, as I rolled through my foot to go forward and a huge what felt like electric zing traveled through my 3rd toe. I was so perplexed! Right away doing just a simple relevé was excruciating. The first foot doctor I saw told me I had Morton's neuroma (an inflammation of the nerve in between the metatarsal), he gave me a cortisone injection in between my 2nd and 3rd toe. It did absolutely nothing. I kept taking ibupofen to go through my shows. We dancers never want to "miss out" or disappoint. In Feb 2015, after an MRI, I went to see a foot and ankle specialist who told me I had "Metatarsalgia"... Basically code for "I don't really know". That term englobes everything: your metatarsal joint is inflamed. Well duh, I didn't need an expert to tell me that.. So I went back to my PRP surgeon and we decided to try PRP again in the 3rd metatarsal joint at the end of the season. (May 2015).
To our biggest disappointment, it barely did anything. Maybe 10-15% better but that was it. I was so discouraged as I had put all my hopes in the injection since it had been magical the first time. I was out of solutions... I tried to manage the pain for so long but after reaching out to different people, someone suggested I go see the NY City Ballet's doctor. In April 2016, I got a plane ticket. He was my savior. A kind, generous man who wanted to figure it out. He put his ultrasound machine to my 3rd toe, made it move & right away told me: "You have a plantar plate tear! And it's big...". His diagnosis took literally 5sec! I was stunned. He said because the ligament is not in motion during an MRI, it was much harder to see.
Right away he suggested a solution. I actually cried. I had been battling this for almost 2 YEARS!! He gave me an (almost painless) injection of a different kind: Prolotherapy.
Prolotherapy is an injection of a Dextrose and Procaine solution directly into the site of torn or stretched ligaments or tendons. This method creates a mild, controlled inflammatory response that encourages growth of new ligament or tendon fibers, to tighten the weakened structure. Successive treatments may be needed to allow a gradual buildup of tissue to restore its original strength. Here is a diagram of the difference between PRP and Prolotherapy. For my ligament, Prolotherapy was the answer. Whereas PRP worked for my torn tendon.. Just to show your body can be temperamental!
My lesson from all this was to seek help right away. Don't let it linger for as long as I did. Find the right doctor as soon as you can. Dancing this one more role or doing this one more class or rehearsal could make the length of your recovery 3 weeks or 6 months! And again, I was terrible in Maths and Chemistry so I am definitely no doctor. I just wanted to share these new options with you to give you some hope and discuss it with your favorite medical professional. Don't be discouraged, be proactive and get back on your dancing feet!!! 💃