Pain From Nerve Injuries in Dancers

Published: 17th February 2011
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Copyright (c) 2011 Foot & Ankle Alliance

Dancers, by profession, are required to perform in ways that place stress and pressure against nerves. They can stretch out and do exercises for dance injury prevention, but dance injury statistics show that these folks are still prone to injury because of the stress they place on their bodies.

One of the more common dance injuries to the nerve is "interdigital neuroma." The interdigital nerves run under a ligament in the forefoot. If bones and ligaments squeeze any of these nerves, extra tissue may build up around the nerve, which can cause pain, swelling and nerve inflammation on the ball of the foot and/or between the third and fourth toes. In less common cases, this may happen between the second and third toes

"Interdigital neuroma" is also called "Morton's neuroma." By either name, a dancer might feel a small lump may between the bones, and it may feel like they have a stone in their shoe. As the thickened nerve slides between the bones, a click may be heard.

Treatment options for interdigital neuroma include avoiding pointed and/or high-heeled shoes, special pads and shots of cortisone. Exercises to stretch and strengthen the foot can ease the pain. Also, electrical stimulation, massage, ultrasound, or whirlpool may also help. In few cases, the nerve may require surgery.

Another one of the more common dance injuries is "tarsel tunnel syndrome." The tarsal tunnel is a narrow space inside of the ankle next to the ankle bone. The tunnel is covered with a thick ligament that protects the structures inside the tunnel. The posterior tibial nerve is one of these structures.

Tarsal tunnel syndrome is a squeezing of the posterior tibial nerve, which produces pain anywhere along the path of the nerve, which runs from the inside of the ankle into the foot. Tarsal tunnel syndrome is actually similar to carpal tunnel syndrome, which happens in the wrist. Both syndromes happen when a nerve is squeezed within a confined space.

A few of the symptoms include a tingling and/or burning sensation, similar to an electric shock, or a shooting pain with numbness and pain. These symptoms are usually on the inside of the ankle and/or on the bottom of the foot. For some people a symptom can occur in just one location. In others, it may be felt in the heel, arch, toes, and the calf.

It's very important to see a doctor if a dancer has any of the symptoms of tarsal tunnel syndrome. If left untreated, tarsal tunnel syndrome may result in permanent nerve damage.

For this dance injury, non-surgical treatments include: staying off the foot, using an ice pack, anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, restrict movement of the foot by wearing a cast, physical therapy. ultrasound therapy, exercises, shots of a local anesthetic, custom shoe inserts, supportive shoes, or a brace may be worn to reduce the pressure on the foot.

Sometimes surgery is the best option for treating tarsal tunnel syndrome. The foot and ankle surgeon will determine if surgery is necessary. Although prevention of dance injuries is the obvious best treatment, dancers should see their physician as soon as possible if any symptoms do occur.


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Dr. Alireza Khosroabadi is a Fellowship trained foot & ankle surgeon. He did his Surgical training in NY and his fellowship at the Rubin institute for Advanced Orthopedics/International Center for Limb Lengthening at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore with world renowned Orthopedic Surgeons. He is practicing in LA, CA . More information @ fixmyfoot.com

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