Do you or someone you know have a hammer toe? Should a dancer be discouraged from attempting pointe work if the difference between the length of the second toe and the big toe is great?
Having a longer second toe or a hammer toe should not discourage you from attempting pointe work at all! A hammer toe is a deformity that causes the second, third or fourth toes to bend at the middle joint, to resemble a hammer. It is most common for people with hammer toes to develop corns or calluses on the top of the middle joint of the toe.
There are a few modifications that will alleviate some of the pressure from the second toe that you may like to try. Building up the length of the big toe using foam pads can help. If this is your personal preference, I strongly suggest visiting a podiatrist prior to going en pointe as they may be able to modify something for you. Be sure to take your pointe shoes and padding along with you to trial.
I speak from personal experience when I say how painful hammer toes can be. I spent my entire career with a corn on top of my second toe that was constantly in varying states of infection. Sometimes the infection was so severe that I would have to cut a hole in the top of my pointe shoe and cover it with tape to alleviate the pressure. (I only ever did this for rehearsals!) Shoes that narrow slightly toward the toe can often exacerbate the problem, and my shoe of choice was always a Sylphide, which tapers to a small platform.
My favourite form of pain reduction came in the form of spenco second skin, which is a product commonly used to treat minor burns, cuts, scrapes and abrasions whilst preventing blisters, as it protects the skin from rubbing, chafing or friction. During my career, this product was only available in large rectangles, today it is available in ready to use pre-cut handy squares. The other product that helped me immensely was individual gel toe sleeves. The longevity this particular product offers proves them to be very affordable, providing you dry them after use and always keep them clean.
The reason I share my personal experience with you is to reassure any dancers out there with this condition that pointe work should not be discouraged in any way. You will have to experiment with padding etc and also styles of shoe to see what gives you the best result.
Written by; Vicki Attard