In Part 1, we considered the perspectives of two professional therapists who work exclusively with dancers. Now we’ll look at several foot facts that should play into any dancer’s decision to use a foot stretcher — and warnings for those who do.
Each Dancer’s Foot Is Unique.
Because each dancer and each foot is unique, requiring the same technique for every person in a class can be risky. For instance, for a student with already hyper-mobile feet, strong stretches can overstretch ligaments, increasing the foot’s instability and making it more vulnerable to injury.
Sustained Stretching Can Halt Progress.
When ligaments are stretched in a sustained way (such as what’s accomplished with foot stretchers), those ligaments can experience a lessened proprioceptive awareness — a fancy way for saying that the dancer can lose the ability to sense exactly how the foot is positioned. Since such an awareness is key to progressing with pointe work, foot stretchers can actually become counter-productive.
Foot Stretchers Aren’t Intelligent.
Okay, so this probably seems pretty obvious, but the fact is that a single device won’t be able to isolate precisely the place where a foot requires increased mobility. Sometimes, stiff feet require added range at the point where the tarsals and metatarsals meet; other times, the issue is between the various tarsal bones. Still others will lack range between the lower leg and the talus.
Sometimes, Foot Stretchers Can’t Help.
Often, the restriction is caused by a block in the actual ankle, or sub-talar, joint. If that’s the case, using a foot stretcher will actually compress the joint rather than stretching it. And no one wants that.
Stretching Across the Arch Must Be Gentle.
If stretching causes pain or feels like a focused stretch targeting a single point, there’s a problem. Effective stretching of the front of the arch should always be gentle and spread across the entire arch.
Foot Stretchers Focus on Pointed Position.
Because foot stretchers are intended to force the foot into a pointed position, they can also cause compression of ankle structures. Since many students already have issues with Posterior Impingement, such forceful over-pointing of the foot can cause problematic compression.
Most Student Dancers Already Have Plenty of Range.
In fact, many young dancers have more range in their feet than they can actually utilize safely. Instead of increasing that range, the focus should be on strengthening current range. Typically, as strength increases, range also increases.
Any Increased Pointe Range Should Come Slowly.
The focus should be to maintain a strong, stable ankle. Any attempts to increase range should be done in consideration of ankle anatomy; that means, among other things, that it should be done slowly, over time.
Many Dancers Don’t Need Help.
Often, dancers demonstrating the effect of foot stretchers will display a hyperextended knee, in addition to a pretty pointe. Such dancers probably didn’t need any kind of device in order to achieve a graceful line.