Like many issues, that of foot stretchers conjures a wide spectrum of opinions. However, many experts agree that these devices can be used safely by some dancers, as long as caution is exercised. Want a little more detail on the pros and cons of foot stretchers? We’ll summarize a couple expert opinions for you, and then you can feel free to ask your own physician and dance instructor about their recommendations for you.
A Physical Therapist’s Perspective on Foot Stretchers
The first expert opinion we’ll consider is that of Boyd Bender, a physical therapist who works with dancers in the Pacific Northwest Ballet. In an interview with Pointe Magazine, Boyd advises dancers to exercise caution when using foot stretchers. His reasoning? Especially for those dancers with arches on the flatter end of the spectrum, using these devices can result in flattening the mid-foot, making it less stable. Essentially, the way this happens is that the extra pressure can cause too much stretching, weakening some foot types. The unfortunate result for many is that the foot becomes more prone to roll inward — a definite issue for any dancer!
Boyd offers even more caution for those who have foot or ankle injuries in their backgrounds: foot stretchers should be used only under the guidance of a health professional, in order to avoid causing further damage.
For those without flat arches or injuries in their background, Boyd further cautions any dancer using foot stretchers to be aware that these devices won’t work any miracles; a person’s natural foot structure can be altered only so much. Some dancers may experience an increase in mobility, as a result of stretching the foot’s soft tissue. However, a pretty point will be even more influenced by increased joint mobility — something that simply isn’t as easy to accomplish. Also note that foot stretchers won’t be effective at all once your foot and ankle stop growing, something that typically happens in a person’s late teen years.
A Dance Physiotherapist’s Perspective on Foot Stretchers
In addition to Boyd’s professional opinion, that of Lisa Howell, a Dance Physiotherapist, weighs into this issue. On her Ballet Blog, Howell shares her insights gleaned from her groundbreaking educational and rehabilitation work with dancers in Sydney, Australia.
Howell encourages dancers to be extremely cautious about using any device to stretch the foot. For dancers without naturally pointed feet, gently stretching ligaments can be necessary in order to achieve a graceful-looking arched foot; however, she is quick to inform her readers and clients that such a visually attractive foot is never a necessity; a dancer’s health and safety should always be prioritized over aesthetics.
If any attempt is made to increase the foot’s range of motion, such exercises must be paralleled by related strengthening exercises, enabling the dancer to utilize the newly achieved range of motion. Without added strength, added range can easily lead to injury.
Continue reading with Part 2.
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