The Best Treatment for Plantar Fasciitis in Dancers
The plantar fascia is an extraordinary structure that stretches along the full length of the foot and is very important in getting good propulsion in jumps and in walking.
When the Plantar Fascia gets irritated or inflamed it is termed Plantar Fasciitis (Inflammation of the Plantar Fascia).
Unfortunately most people try to treat this condition with stretching and massage. This may provide some temporary relief (occasionally it makes it worse) but this very rarely fixes the problem.
The three big things that need to be addressed to really fix the issue are:
- Muscular support of the arches of the foot
- Fascial mobility throughout the body and especially the lower leg
- Gentle support to reduce load on the fascia while it heals.
1. Muscular support of the arches of the foot
As Leonardo da Vinci said “The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.” When working properly, it allows us to run and jump and dance in the most extraordinary ways. However when it does not work in the way it was designed, then we can experience a lot of pain.
The foot is designed in such a way that it has 3 dynamic arches. By dynamic, I mean that they are designed to move and flex as we move, rather than be held in one place all the time. These are supported by complex slings of muscles and facia that work together to power us forward. The Plantar Fascia is designed to cope with strain in an on and off kind of way, rather than be under constant load. If there is a weakness in the muscles that support the position of the foot, constant strain is placed on the plantar fascia and it will start to get sore.
Stretching and massaging the plantar fascia will actually often make it feel worse, as it is already inflamed. We need to retrain the muscles that support the arch to take the load off the fascia long term. This can be done with all of the foot intrinsic exercises in The Perfect Pointe Book (especially the ‘Doming’ ‘Toe Swapping’ and ‘Tripod Foot’ exercises. Make sure that when you perform these, the heel stays square and the arch stable (not rocking the foot in and out). They need to be done very slowly and deliberately to get the best effect. If you would like more detail about the anatomy and training of the specific muscles, contact us for a copy of The Advanced Foot Control Manual.
The Plantar Fascia of the sole of the foot has direct connections up onto the fascia that runs along the whole back part of your body. Thomas Myers describes this as the “Superficial Back Line”. Tension anywhere in the back line can cause pulling and tension down into the sole of the foot, so it is important that when dealing with any issues with the plantar fascia we also look at the mobility of the fascia throughout the back of the body. The Front Splits Fast Flexibility Program is the perfect way to assess and treat the whole back line, and you will notice dramatic changes in your overall flexibility once you can isolate and release your own tension points.
3. Supporting the fascia
Providing some support to the fascia is essential in allowing the inflammation to settle while you build up the strength to control the foot yourself. I use a combination of a soft heat mouldable orthotic inserts in school/running shoes and taping for class work. The best taping is a technique that creates a cross woven web over the sole of the foot that mimics the plantar fascia. The other technique I use involves the use of Dynamic Tape, or alternatively actually taping a small piece of Resistance band to the sole of the foot! (Both of these techniques are in the Advanced Foot Control manual).
To get the fastest and best recovery possible, I definitely recommend combining the three approaches above with a short period of rest from allegro and pointe work. You should still be able to do a flat barre and adage to maintain your strength (especially with appropriate taping) however if it is very painful, you may have to wear supportive runners in class instead of ballet flats.
Often students find that they actually come out of an ‘injury’ like this stronger and more mobile than before if they learn how to work with their body in the correct way. Improved flexibility and foot control help all areas of dancing, and correct dynamic bio-mechanics of the foot will result in much improved height and ballon in Allegro work.