October 12, 2012

Toe Woe

I don't think it could have hurt more if someone had drilled a nail through my big toe. Not your regular ouchy aprés-pointe toes, but unrelenting and sharp throbbing pain. Some of you may already guess what I'm talking about: the dreaded ingrown nail resulting in nail bed inflammation. Which is not all that rare among ballet dancers. There are of course ways to prevent this, like trimming your nails in a straight line across the top. Also, you can avoid wearing shoes that squeeze your toes tightly together. Pointe shoes do probably not fall into this category.. My problem is that my nails don't lie flat on their bed, but are somewhat curved (like the rest of my body). It's not the tip of the nail which tends to dig in, but the bit under the inside corner. So far, only the left one has been affected and never before this badly. What gives?

I suspect part of it was my fault. I had gotten used to the sometime discomfort because it's limited to movements which have the side of my toe pressing into the floor, like doing a degagé to the back. It's annoying but you move on. I should have been alarmed when my usual soft slippers started to press painfully on my toe, but you get used to that too. I remember when I was on this cross-country ski camp way back in school, and had just had a small growth spurt. My ski boots were about half a size too small, but I took to the lopes anyway. The shoes rubbed my heels raw, the blood soaking all the way through the leather - but I finished my 10k just the same. Give up? No way. So I've got a high treshold for pain, and a very stubborn streak. Great combo for pointe, as long as you know your limits! Last Tuesday I could have switched into soft shoes, but no, I had to finish class in pointe shoes - full out. Did I mention that those shoes are on the brink of death and my big toe banging the floor up on relevé? Acknowledging pain is not the same as being a wuss.

When I went home after that class, I was still okay. But instead of the ouch fading away, it got worse. I took a maximum dose of paracetamol, but to no effect. Could not sleep because of the constant drilling pain. Watched old episodes of The Nanny until 4 am. The next day I was still in pain and miserable. My left big toe reddish and swollen at the inside edge of the nail bed. I had to get out of the house, but putting on shoes and walking: no fun at all. Fortunately my dancing doctor friend came to the rescue. I went to see her later that day for a consult. The bad news: the toe's nail bed was inflamed. The good news: it could have been worse. Antibiotic cream twice a day and it should get better soon. After having googled partial nail removements, I was very much relieved.

After the initial medical care, I was given the full consolation treatment: some lovely Italian Valpolicella which we drank while watching a POB master class on DVD. This was followed by an impromptu sauna-spa evening and finished off with late night deli snacking. You can't get better health care than this. After three days my toe is already much better. Walking longer distances (in shoes) is still a bit painful, and pointe shoes are obviously out of the question. Which really sucks as our pointe class has just been up-graded from 45 minutes back to a full hour, repertoire included. We are currently practicising Raymonda's big variation. Sigh.. I hope my toe is back in dancing shape by Monday. Hopefully even in pointe shoes next Tuesday.

9 comments:

  1. My toe nails used to ingrow on both sides of my toes. Even putting on socks was extremely painful and my toes were constantly swollen because of the puss. Later I found a pedicurist who puts cotton wool on the sides of toes so it works like a kind of braces for nails - it makes them less curved. In the beginning it was extremely painful but nowadays my toes don't suffer anymore and it's such a relief. If you get these problems regularly I suggest that you try this before it gets worse.

    Removing the nails or even the skin partly doesn't usually help much. I tried that before the pedicure and if it helped for a week, it was much. After it starts growing back, the history repeats itself... I also tried cammomile and leafstalk baths and even though they smell wonderfully, none of them were much help.

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    1. Ouch! I'm glad you got your toes sorted out, it must have been very painful. Did you have dance classes at the same time?

      I've heard others use the cotton wool too, but I don't see how I could get it deep enough.. My sore spot is way under the nailbed. But I'm definitely going to be more careful now and make sure that pointe shoes don't put too much pressure on the toe - which means no more going up on pointe in dying shoes!

      Luckily my toe is mending well, there was no pus and the antibiotic seems to be working. I just went out for a walk in comfy shoes - and no pain! It's still a little bruised looking but I think I'm going to be back in class on Monday :)

      I'm hoping this is not going to be a recuring problem, but if necessary, I will seek advice from a pedicurist like you did - thanks for the tip!

      Our feet are very important, so let's take good care of them!

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    2. No, it was years ago and I knew nothing about dance back then. In a way it's good I didn't because it would have been impossible for me to do it anyway... I'm glad your nail starts to collaborate, hope it stays this way. :)

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  2. My sister remembers pointe classes happily. I don't. I suspect (but I can't really remember) that I never got to go en pointe as a teenager. At 13 I had one side of one big toenail removed (it's called a wedge resection) and the following year, I had the other side of that toenail and both sides of the other big toenail removed. My current ballet teacher tells me I'll never go en pointe because my feet aren't the right shape for it. Having seen the pain my daughter was in when she was learning to do it, I'm relatively happy that I'll never get to do it myself.

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    1. Ouch [sympathy wince] - that must have been very painful for you!

      But I do wonder about the shape of your feet - did your teacher specify why they are not right for pointe? Not everyone has perfect feet, not even pros. You can work around a lots of flaws and imperfections, as long as your shoes are fitted correctly and you are trained properly. However, if you have too many things working against you, like a second longer toe AND low arches/insteps AND bunions AND poor flexiblity - then it's hardly worth the effort. Sometimes, even young and talented students are told pointe is out of the question. Can you imagine the hearbreak?

      Having said that, I have to add that my pointe experience of the past two years has not been painful. There was some initial discomfort the first times, and you do feel your toes after a 60 minute class - but nothing that makes you grit your teeth. Maybe I have the right foot shape, but I also wear the correct shoe and use (thin) padding. My teachers are careful not to push us too hard, while making sure our technique is as clean as possible.

      The inflamed nail-bed incident was not directly pointe-related, although I should have taken care not bump my already irritated toe in almost-dead shoes.

      Luckily, a recreational adult dancer does not HAVE to go up on pointe. I danced over fifteen years in soft shoes alone, and had a wonderful time. Also, it is likely that you get to do learn much more advanced steps in flatties, as there is more time dedicated to jumping. I hope you have the happiest time in class - with our without pointe shoes :)

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  3. Aw Johanna get well soon and get back to your pointies as well!!

    Love,

    Nasia :)

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    1. Thanks, Nasia! I had class today, and the toe was okay. Will try pointe tomrrow, hopefully it won't be too bad :)

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  4. Glad your toe is better dear Johanna :). And hope pointe class went well and was not that painful for you. Just please do take care of yourself as much as you can.

    Hugs from London,

    Nasia :)

    PS: Trying to get back to my ballet course routine. I am slightly de-motivated in doing it by other people (complicated to explain), even though I love dancing and most important improving my technique. I am living a bit far from previous ballet teacher who was brilliant and have to
    find a new one so I am trying to get a new course where I can do it 3-4 times a week and fit it in with my university schedule. Just thought of sharing this with you.

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    1. Well, I survived pointe class.. ;) And yes, I am taking good care - thank you for your concern.

      I hope you find another course that fits your schedule, and most of all, a teacher that you really like. I know it's hard when you have to give up a brilliant teacher's classes. I really feel for you.

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