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Wednesday, 1 December, 1999, 17:06 GMT
Ballet move 'causes arthritis'
En pointe Dancing 'en pointe' can lead to arthritis

Young girls who carry out a ballet move too early in their training risk developing arthritis in the ankles, researchers have warned.

They advise that the "en pointe" move - or dancing on tiptoe - should not be attempted by girls who are as young as 11 or 12.

A study using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to view the ankles of 11 female dancers with the National Ballet of Canada found that each of them had signs of arthritis in the joints of the ankles.

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

Researcher David Salonen, assistant professor at the University of Toronto, said: "Dancers all end up with very painful ankles.

"This is nothing new to ballet dancers, who are used to performing with pain much of the time.

"But perhaps the problems might be prevented, or at least alleviated, if girls waited until they were older to go en pointe."

The ankle is one of the most intricate joints in the body and is therefore prone to injury.

The same type of injury is commonly detected in sprinters and mid- and long-distance runners.

None of the dancers who took part in the study had any obvious signs of ankle damage.

But the scans revealed tell-tale signs of developing oesteoarthritis.

Dr Salonen said: "Ankle problems are one of the leading contributory factors in ending a dancer's career.

"A third to half of the season, these dancers live in chronic ankle pain."

Dr Salonen said that even professional dancers should be encouraged to reste for longer periods between performances.

He said: "It might lengthen their careers or slow the progression of disease."

Unnatural positions

Dr Madeline Devey, scientific secretary of the Arthritis Research Campaign, said the problem was that ballet dancers had to twist their joints into unnatural positions.

She said: "Their joints are far more mobile than normal, and in a small proportion of people this hypermobility leads to arthritis."

Dr Devey said ballet dancers were also susceptible to soft tissue injury and to injuries caused by over-exertion.

This could be exacerbated by poor diet, as dancers struggled to stay slim.

However, she said anybody who took part in physical activity or sport could be said to be at risk of developing arthritis.

"We are all going to get arthritis in some of our joints and for many it is not too much of a problem."

Professor Rodney Grahame, an expert in arthritis and the performing arts, said dancers were more likely to develop osteoarthritis in the big toe than the ankle.

Jane Devine, of the Royal Ballet School, said pupils were encouraged to develop good technique before going "en pointe", and were also given exercises to build up the muscles in the ankles and legs. The importance of proper nutrition and rest was also stressed.

She said: "Ballet teachers and parents should be aware of all these things."
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See also:
30 Nov 99 |  Health
Breakthrough on crippling diseases
07 Jun 99 |  Health
Arthritis: A new north-south divide
18 Nov 99 |  Health
Arthritis drug prompts funding worries

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