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This article was written in response to an email I received from a concerned teacher about a topic that many of our followers and patients in the clinic constantly ask about - Foot Stretchers!
At the beginning of each year many students are in a rush to impress their teachers; whether it be because they have changed dance schools, are hoping to go en pointe this year, are thinking about auditioning for full time training or moving into performing at a professional level. Most students and their teachers want to improve the line of their feet and wonder whether using a Foot Stretcher is a good way to improve pointe range.
Whilst Foot Stretchers can be dangerous to use in some dancers, and may encourage Posterior Impingement, in some instances they can be used safely. Therefore I have written this article on the pros and cons of Foot Stretchers so that you can be more informed to decide whether it is safe for you or not.
"Dear Lisa, please HELP!
A student of mine who also dances at another school asked my opinion on a foot stretcher device... Apparently the teacher has asked all of her ballet students to purchase one. This particular student has been using it for 12 months and currently has Achilles issues and is seeing a dance physio for treatment (who does NOT know this student is using one of these devices!)
Before I return my opinion I would like your input please!
Man made Devices for stretching your feet - or tools of torture??????????
Please think twice about using these man made contraptions and ask your Physiotherapists advice.
There has been recent medical and scientific evidence that stretching of this kind will not benefit your foot, but can actually over-stretch the tendons and ligaments, etc. making your foot perhaps stretched a bit more, but weaker in the process as well as leading to injury and aggravation of the Achilles tendon etc.
These contraptions came out years ago before any studies were done on them. The new research is very much against this type of stretching.
If you are looking to stretch out the tops of your feet, one of the best exercises you can do is to go on all 4's (like a dog), make sure that your feet are exactly in parallel and that your toes are not curving in towards each other -- then just sit back on your feet. Do this on a soft surface, like a carpet or a mat -- a hardwood floor hurts a bit too much. This exercise will help to stretch out the tops of your feet safely and you will not need to spend any money to do it.
Thanks so much!
Thanks so much for your email, and yes – we definitely do need to be careful with any external device used to stretch the feet.
Gentle stretching of the ligaments over time is sometimes necessary in dancers who have not been blessed with naturally pointed feet to get the coveted look of a beautifully arched foot, but this is by no means essential to have a career in dance, and should never be put ahead of the safety and health of the dancers foot.
As a general rule – when I assess student’s feet, most of them have more range than they can use, i.e. their foot can be forcibly pressed further than they can point or rise on it themselves, so I always focus on strengthening into their current range before worrying too much about their range. As the strength improves – often, so does their range! Any attempts to increase pointe range should be done very slowly, and with careful thought to the anatomy of the ankle to keep it stable and strong. Over stretched ligaments have reduced proprioceptive feedback so we do not want this!
Please also notice that in just about all of the images you see for foot stretchers, the dancer also has a slightly hyperextended knee. These girls most likely already had a lovely line, and didn't need much assistance from the device to make it look beautiful…
Any attempts to increase the range of motion into either a pointed or flexed position must be accompanied by specific strengthening exercises so that the dancer can actually use the new range of motion when he/she dances. Excessive range in the ankle without excellent proprioception and strength can be the cause of many foot and ankle injuries. I am not aware of any specific studies that have looked at each of the different products on the market, but I definitely have my reservations, especially about a whole class using the same device, as outlined below....
In the student that you mention, who is being treated for Achilles issues, I would definitely make sure that it actually is an Achilles Tendinopathy, as often pain in the back of the ankle can be misdiagnosed. If she has been using the foot stretcher for some time – it may actually be due to an Os Trigonum, FHL Tendinopathy or Posterior Impingement instead.
For more information on this kind of issue, please check out the following links to articles and other information:
If you are wanting to learn some safe ways to mobilise and strengthen the foot is a safe way, then our Advanced Foot Control for Dancer's program is perfect! it basically teaches you how to become your own foot physio, by going through;
I hope that this helps with the teacher and student in question!