My (Very Strong) Opinion of Foot Stretchers

Dancers resort to desperate measures to get great feet – extreme stretching, ridiculous amounts of Theraband exercises, shoving feet beneath couches… Rarely do these endeavors work (with the exception of the Theraband exercises).  It’s important that dancers learn the healthy way to do things and realize that the unhealthy ways rarely lead to success.  In other words, today we talk about the foot stretcher …and my gigantic grudge against it!

Why Go There?

I watch so many non-dancers look at a picture of a dancer with their foot in a foot stretcher and the first thing they say is: “Oh!  Why would they do that?”  Well, here is a little explanation to help you out:

  1. Dancers feel insecure about the amount of foot flexibility they have naturally.  This comes from either social media or jealousy of other dancers in their class.
  2. They feel the need to stretch and strengthen their feet.  Dancers typically do research of information published by reputable physical therapists or dance teachers, and all sources say to do Theraband exercises and light stretching.
  3. The dancers try these methods, but get impatient. Results are slow. These methods take a long time to make a difference in foot flexibility and strength.
  4. Frustrated, the dancers resort to extreme measures such as foot stretchers and crazy contraptions to increase their flexibility.

So, that’s why dancers go there.  Now, I’m going to give my advice to dancers on how to avoid getting to that step 4.

Strength v. Stretch

Another problem that tends to arise is that dancers have a hard time assessing whether they need foot flexibility or foot strength.  It is not often that there is a need for both simultaneously, so you need to make sure you can tell the difference.

A foot that needs strengthening is often very flexible.  If you have difficulty with balancing steps, turns and hops en pointe, your feet are probably very bendy and need to be “tamed” through strengthening.  Any version of Theraband exercises for your feet should work wonderfully.  Take note that you can also practice relevés, échappés and other foot-strengthening, pointe-class drills after class.

A foot that needs stretching is often very rigid and strong, but cannot be gotten over the box of the pointe shoe.  Lots of light stretching and gentle moulding of the foot can help you reach your foot flexibility goals.  Another little trick is to roll out the bottoms of your feet (your arches) with a small ball, like a golf ball.  The massaging helps release the muscles and helps your feet become more articulate.

The Dangers of Foot Stretchers

There is a difference between getting a “good stretch” and “forceful” stretching.  A good stretch is an effort that helps improve your flexibility and allows you to get a feel of lengthening with release in the muscle.  That should be the case with every stretch.

A forceful stretch is a movement you can’t control.  No matter how much of a stretch you think you are getting in the correct place, there will always be something that is stretched that shouldn’t be, or something will be tugged or squished between bones.  It’s quite unsafe.

Foot stretchers are an excellent example of a forceful stretching method.  When you put your foot in this contraption, you can’t control the amount of stretch you are getting.  As soon as you put your foot in, you are getting one specific amount of stretch.  With a friend stretching your feet, or in a variety of other exercises, you can adjust the amount of stretch to the needs of your foot.

When you go into a forceful stretching method you put the tendons and ligaments on top of your foot at risk.  An uncontrollable amount of stretching can rip, tear or tug on certain things that should not be tugged on.  You especially know you need to stop when you feel a pinching pain in your Achilles tendon.  This is one of the most overt signs of overstretching.

Additionally, foot stretchers don’t allow you to completely control the shape of your foot in the pointed position.  Many dancers accidentally sickle while using a foot stretcher. That then transfers over to their dancing.

Alternatives to Foot Stretchers

There are many better options than using a foot stretcher.  Use the directions below to make a safe foot stretcher using materials from around the house. You will need: a plank of wood, a Theraband, a towel and masking tape.

  1. Lay a plank of wood on the ground. Place a Theraband horizontally over the top of it.
  2. Maintaining the position of the band, flip the plank so that the Theraband is secure on the ground.
  3. Pull the ends of the Theraband over top of the back side of the plank.  Leaving about an inch of space beneath, tie a knot with the Theraband.
  4. Flip the system back over.  Place a small towel beneath the Theraband and use masking tape to secure it onto the plank.

To use the stretcher, place your foot beneath the Theraband and over the towel.

You can also have a friend stretch your feet by gently pressing down, slightly about the metatarsals.  Remind them to pay attention to the way in which the foot is shaped: sickled? winged?  Tell them if you are getting too much of a stretch or too little.

Thanks for reading today’s post!  I’ll see you on Friday with more.

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