Web Exclusive - Ask Amy

Published in the August/September 2013 issue.

Photo by Nathan Sayers

My little toenails have been constantly bruised for a long time, and sometimes this is particularly painful! I occasionally file down the top of the nail surface, but that often makes the pain worse if I don’t do it carefully. How can I relieve the pain and stop the bruising? —Julia
I feel you—my pinkie toenails spend a large part of the year sporting various shades of blue. Excess pressure from your pointe shoe box is probably what’s causing the problem. In addition to filing down your nails, take a close look at your shoes. They may be a size too narrow, or your box shape may be too tapered. Also, if you have wing blocks, consider if they’re too restrictive.

Many dancers also have what’s called dynamic hammer toes, which can exacerbate bruising. “When standing, their pinky toe looks flat and straight, but when they point their feet, their pinkies curl into a sort of hammer toe,” says Dr. Alan Woodle, foot and ankle specialist for the Pacific Northwest Ballet. He recommends taping the toe with athletic tape to prevent it from curling under. You can also place silicone gel pads or toe sleeves strategically around the nail to help relieve some of the pressure.

In addition, you may want to try stretching your pointe shoe around the area of your little toe. An easy way to do this at home is to wrap your pinkies in wet paper towels and wear your pointe shoes around the house for a while. “The water from the wet paper towel will stretch out the interior of the pointe shoe box,” he says. Or, douse a cotton ball in water or rubbing alcohol and dab it around the outside. You could also try investing in a ball and ring stretcher—a clamp-like contraption usually used to stretch shoes around the bunion area—to help expand the material around your little toes (available at merdegirl.com).