If you’re dancer or participate in sports, you’ve probably had to deal with a few strains, sprains or even more serious injuries. Here’s a look at two common problems for which many people consult an orthopaedist (bone specialist). Learn to take care of these issues before they become worse, and learn when it’s already time to see a physician.

 

Bunions

The word bunions (hallux valgus is medical lingo) refers to an overgrowth of bone at the joint where the big toe meets the foot. Often this is accompanied by pain and the big toe pointing outward at an angle instead of straight ahead.

You may think this is a problem that only plagues little old ladies. It’s true, many seniors have this condition from wearing tight shoes with pointed toes, dating from a time when women’s vanity often caused them to deny their true shoe size. However, athletes, especially dancers, develop this condition too. And if you are prone to bunions because of your own genetic makeup or footwear choice (like pointed stilettos or cowboy boots), you may feel the worst of it during workouts.

Clearly, shoe choice can play in role in the growth of bunions, so try to wear shoes with square toe boxes that accommodate all five toes equally. How else can you head this problem off at the pass? If you are predisposed to bunions because of how your feet are naturally structured or if you’ve already seen them developing, try a toe spacer between your big toe and second toe. You can also see a physical therapist or athletic trainer for taping techniques that you can do before exercise to pull the great toe in the right direction.

If this doesn’t do the trick, you may need to consult an orthopaedist about other options, such as custom-made orthotic inserts, injections or surgery. There are several different surgical procedures today used to correct bunions when they don’t respond to less invasive measures.

 

Difficulty Bending the Knee

Trouble bending your knee can show up in many different forms:

• pain
• tightness
• noises, like popping or crunching
• feeling of fullness or impingement in the joint
• knee giving way

This type of difficulty is a chronic problem that usually comes on gradually, versus the sudden pain and incapacitation you would find with a torn ligament.

This can be due to any number of problems, such as

•torn meniscus (the cushion between the large bones of the knee joint)
•frayed meniscus
•worn meniscus
•calcified loose body in the knee joint
•patella (kneecap) not tracking properly during motion
•tightness or imbalance in muscles and tendons involved in the knee joint

If you are already experiencing problems with your knee, it’s best to consult an orthopaedist to identify the problem and prevent it becoming worse. You may be able to correct the issue with conservative (non-surgical) help.

If you haven’t had problems with your knees, consider yourself lucky, and practice these tips to maintain your knee health:

1. Make sure to balance exertional workouts with good stretching. Never stretch, however, when your joints are cold. Do some light work first, then stretch carefully and do the bulk of your stretching after your workout.

2. Don’t push your knee further than it wants to go. Pain is always a sign that something is not right. Everyone’s knees are built differently with varying degrees of flexibility. Know your limitations and heed them.

3. Watch for careful alignment when performing actions involving bending the knees. If you are a dancer, make sure your knee is over your toes in grand plie. If you are performing lunges, especially with weights, your knee should never be further forward than your toes. A physical therapist or athletic trainer can give you pointers, and if you practice in front of a mirror or video your performance, you can catch potentially dangerous movement.

4. Pay attention to changes in your range of motion or the signs listed above that something could be wrong. Consult a professional and you may prolong your athletic career by years or even decades.