Is the Pro-Arch®, Ballet Foot Stretch® or other foot-stretching device appropriate for you?
The quick answer is an emphatic NO!
Dancers have long looked for ways to stretch their foot into greater plantar flexion and assist with creating a greater arch. In the beautiful art form of ballet dancing the desired look is a foot that is an extension of the lower leg to create a perfect line. In addition, it is desirable to have a high and proper arch of the foot. To do this the dancer must have 90 degrees of plantar flexion. By progressively stretching the foot many dancers will achieve this angle. Now notice I stated “many” will achieve this angle. Unfortunately not every dancer has a body that is structurally built for perfect ballet lines. This is also true with dancers attempting to gain full hip external rotation required for a perfect turnout.
Pro-Arch®, Ballet Foot Stretch® and other foot-stretching devices work by placing pressure at the sole or plantar aspect of the foot to stretch the top or dorsum of the foot. It then allows the dancer to straighten her leg and presumably improve both arch height and plantar flexion range. Dancers have mimicked this stretch in the past by shoving their feet under radiators, pianos, bookshelves, etc. The only difference between that and using these devices is the application of the smooth bump that pushes into the sole of the foot.
Why is this bad?
The foot is a very complex structure anatomically. There is a highly intricate web of overlapping muscles, tendons and ligaments that assist with a locking mechanism of the foot allowing you to stand and walk properly. Stabilizing your foot are strong ligaments on the sole and a large number of very weak ligaments on the top of the foot. When stretching the foot in a forceful nature as discussed above, the small ligaments of the foot may be weakened or compromised. This reduces the body’s ability to attenuate forces through the foot and allow for proper gait (how we walk), stand or jump. Or in other words it can cause injury to your foot and possibly end your dancing career. Nonetheless these devices continue to be popular for dancers trying to force their bodies into a more desirable line.
What should you do then?
The safest way to achieve the proper line and form of the foot and ankle is to work at it gradually using progressive tendu exercises and gentle stretching without external force. Given time and persistence these lines CAN be achieved.
Good Luck and Safe Dancing