Here is some basic anatomical facts about your feet:
- The support is provided by 28 bones
- 19 muscles attach to these bones by tendons
- 30 different joints held together by up to 117 ligaments allow finely detailed movement
- There are many yards of blood vessels and a complex nerve system
- Each foot has 125,000 sweat glands
- Everything is covered by sheets or bands of tough connective tissue called fascia
When you consider that a ballerina or a male ballet dancer spends years training, and then performing, and each time their feet hit the ground they are impacted by three to four times their body weight, that's amazing! Proper training and care of the feet is essential.
Even beyond preventing injuries, accurate technique will contribute to preventing early arthritis as well.
Shin splints, a burning stinging pain in the front calf muscles, sprained ankles, bone bruises, and blisters from pointe shoes, are foot injuries that can be prevented by building strength specifically in the sole of the foot.
Weakness in the foot muscles causes the lower leg muscles to over work, leading to chronic tension and loss of muscle tone. This will develop into tendonitis in the Achilles tendon which can become chronic and end a career, at the worst.
Chronic tension in any set of muscles in the body will cause mis-alignments, and strain, in the next joint/muscle group, and the next, and so on.
Prevention then, is understanding your foot's construction. Look at photos or drawings, and x-rays of feet. How to use the fact of repetitive motion in ballet (just try to count the number of times you point your foot in a ballet or modern dance class) as strictly a plus, and not a danger to your feet, requires extra study and awareness.
Listening to your body, and paying attention to pain, should be considered part of your training. Aches and sorenesses should go away with warm soaks using epsom salts, ginger or apple cider vinegar, followed by icing. But pain of a sharp, burning or stinging nature must be addressed.
Your foot is brilliantly structured to prevent harmful movement - such as sickling in, and then landing that way, and lo - you have a sprained ankle. However, this can be treated immediately and properly and never cause future discomfort.
Understanding your foot shape and bone structure tells you exactly what your potential is, to increase flexibility, or control hyper-mobility to your best advantage.
For example, if you think you should have more arch to your foot, the shape of your individual bones determine that. You can increase your ankle flexibility to get up onto pointe better, and improve the line of your foot and leg. The shape of your bones will limit the actual arch shape, to some degree.
Famous athletes and dancers actually buy insurance for their body parts. Your insurance is how you take care of your feet.
Soaking or rolling a muscle roller stick around under your feet, while you study or watch tv, takes up no extra time.
Letting your parents know that you have a persistent pain and that you need to have it checked by a professional is important. A visit with a physiotherapist or chiropractor and an x-ray is not terribly expensive, and the completion of your training may depend on it.
Get a professional guide and learn how to dance in ballet pointe shoes.
D. Buxton is a writing partner with Vone Deporter, of The Sedona Series, about a surfer girl in pointe shoes.
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