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Pointing the foot into a Theraband is often given to dancers worldwide as an exercise to ‘strengthen their feet’. While it can be done well if the dancer has exquisite awareness and control, many of the dancers we see doing this exercise are doing more harm than good.
As an example of this, the following photo was taken in our clinic and is of one dancer demonstrating the exercise as she had been taught by her teacher. She had come into our clinic as she was having chronic issues in the back of the ankle. Since she had been having pain, she had been performing the exercise even more to try to make her feet stronger, which was actually causing the issue to get even worse.
So why is doing this exercise (in this way) so bad?
Simply put, the muscles that curl the toes under do not actually have their muscle belly in the foot. The muscles that curl the toes (Flexor Hallucis Longis and Flexor Digitorum Longus) actually starts up in the back of the calf and long tendons connect all the way down into the toes . If the toes are curling under when pointing, then this can cause overuse of the deep muscles in the back of the lower leg, and result in tension in the back of the calf and pain in the back of the ankle. Pointing the foot in this way can cause thickening of the tendons that pass around the back of the ankle, and is the root cause of many of the foot injuries that we see in clinic at Perfect Form Physio.
Even if the dancer can do the exercise without curling the toes under and has good awareness, I still tend to advise dancer to avoid this exercise. There are lots of tendons passing through a small space at the back of the ankle, and any less space than normal can cause compression. The tension in the band has the capacity to compress the joint space at the back of the ankle when in a fully pointed position. There are so many other, less dangerous and more beneficial exercises, so we focus on those instead.
For improving strength in the feet and ankles into flexion and extension, the two safer and better options are, in my opinion, Pointe Through the Demi Pointe with a Ball, or performing Rises with Theraband. These exercises develop much more functional strength as the student must learn to control placement on demi pointe as well as developing core and hip control. It also helps set up the correct muscle firing patterns in the foot and ankle, in relation to the rest of the body, which can then be directly translated into the studio. Pointing the foot, even in something as ‘simple’ as a Tendu, should be an entire body experience, including activation of the core, turnout and leg muscles as well as the feet.
Pointe Through Demi Pointe with the Ball
Rises with Theraband
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