Written by Dr Ellie Sweeney (Osteopath)
Optimal Foot Health for Ballet Dancers is of course of high importance for performance and decreasing the chance of injury. There are 26 bones, 33 joints and over 100 tendons, muscle and ligaments in the human foot. All of these parts work together to create the beautiful movement we see ballet dancers do, especially in pointe. However, many dancers can fall into the trap of getting a repeated injury due to incorrect technique, excessive load, no warm up/cool down or lack of strength, mobility and stability within their feet.
Common foot injuries for ballet dancers include:
- Plantar fasciitis
- Sprained ankles
- Achilles tendinopathy
- Stress fractures
Pointe requires to be able to support your whole-body weight on the tip of your toes. This extended position is plantarflexion. Gastrocnemius and soleus muscles have to be strong to perform this position. Stability within the foot and toes is crucial which requires strength of flexor hallucislongus (for the big toe) and flexor digitorum longus to wrap the toes around in a pointed position. It’s not just your feet working in pointe! The core muscles must engage. Strength is required all through the lower extremity to maintain the pointe posture.
Things that can help dancer’s feet
Personally, having done many forms of dancing myself (ballet included), there is so much I wish I knew about my body so I could prevent injuries from occurring. One of the most important things to remember is allowing your feet to be in a variety of positions and different surfaces. The human foot is designed to walk on all surfaces of earth. So, while you are training to achieve that perfect pointe position, try walking around bear-foot, or running on the sand, climb over rocks and stones. This exposure to different surfaces allows the foot to naturally adapt and handle different kinds of load which ultimately strengthens the arches of our feet and increase proprioception. Long term this can also improve the foot health for ballet dancers.
Another tip I wish I knew was that gentle stretching after a dance class is great to increase flexibility but should always be accompanied with specific strengthening exercises to achieve stability. Every dancer has different feet and so there isn’t a ‘magic exercise or stretch’ that fixes all. All movements should be tailored to your individual muscle imbalances and stage of training. Some people have more ‘flat feet’ while others may have a high arch. These different postural issues need to be treated differently and therefore stretches should be modified to cater for that difference.
Osteopath Dr Ellie Sweeney is available at our
Brisbane City Clinic: Monday and Friday and at our New Farm Clinic: Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.