Pointe shoes must be fit very precisely in order to function properly. In shoes that are too loose, dancers are in danger of injuries such as sprained ankles and blisters. Blisters and bunions can also result from shoes that are too tight. With either fitting problem, the shoe and foot do not work together as they should.
Padding and the fitting process
It’s essential to fit pointe shoes with the same type and amount of padding that will be worn during class and performance. Because of pointe shoes’ precise fitting, even the most slender and lightweight toe pad can make a difference.
If a particular pointe model is selected based on a fitting without padding, and then lightweight padding is added, the dancer is likely to need to go up a width to adjust the fit. If thicker padding is added after a no-pad fitting, the dancer could need a different width and length, and possibly a different model. Thicker pads can add as much as a quarter inch of space between the toes and the end of the toe box.
Pointe fitters need to know the preferences of both dancers and their teachers in order to provide a perfect fit (and to avoid the need for returned shoes).
Changes in padding
For the same reasons, if a dancer changes her preferred toe padding, she will need a new fitting. Either toe pads or lamb’s wool can change the dancer’s need for both size and shape of the toe box, so that a different size, width or model could be needed. When it comes to pointe fitting, padding changes the shape of the toes! Dancers should tell their fitters when they have made a change in their toe padding, so that these factors can be kept in mind during new fittings.
Less is more
Many dancers feel they need a lot of padding to protect their toes from injury. In fact, injuries are more likely to come from ill-fitting shoes, and a perfect fit is much less likely to cause damage to the feet. Blisters are caused by friction, and friction is caused by movement. When the toes are held snugly (not too tightly or loosely) in the toe box, movement is minimized. Sometimes too much padding can bring about more movement, because thick padding compresses and releases as the foot moves on and off pointe. Some dancers find that taping their toes reduces blistering more effectively than thicker toe pads.
Dancers should choose the toe padding that provides the comfort they need without limiting their ability to “feel the floor.” The toes should reach the end of the toe box, the shoe should feel supportive, and the foot should not move inside the shoe. Experimentation with different padding is sometimes necessary, but should always include awareness of how changes in padding can affect the fit and function of pointe shoes.