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Lately at Chicago Dance Supply, I have gotten a lot of people struggling with pain in their arches while dancing which effects them during their day to day activities. Plantar Fasciitis (“PLAN-ter fash-ee-EYE-tus”) affects 2 million Americans each year and many many dancers. I’m not a doctor, but I’m here to address the issue for us dancers, as a dancer that struggles with this as well!
Every dancer knows the sharp pain in the middle of their arch that is plantar fasciitis. It’s a kind of pain that is hard to describe but is constantly there and is especially painful towards the heel. It hurts when just walking around, and of course dancers feel it when they are dancing especially when in a relevé.
Plantar fasciitis is described as a flat band of tissue that connects your heel to your toes, and most commonly the ligament that supports your arch is strained, causing pain and swelling in the bottom of the foot (http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/plantar-fasciitis-topic-overview). Dancers tend to deal with this problem among other athletes because we are often dancing with shoes without any arch support or barefoot which causes quite a bit of straining on our feet, and mostly our arches. The floor we are dancing on, although may be sprung, still is a very hard surface that isn’t that forgiving to the tool we use the most to dance, our feet.
What can we do to help?
One of the first things I do whenever I get a foot injury is go see a podiatrist if I’m able to. There the doctor can give you specific advice related to the exact area of the injury and most often, especially with plantar fasciitis, give you a brace to where in your street shoes throughout the day. The only down side is that the brace generally will not fit in most dance shoes and is hard to dance in while barefoot, but it is possible depending on the severity of the injury.
Of course rest is definitely the best thing to do for plantar fasciitis, but if anyone is like me, I don’t have 3 months time to give to nursing my foot back to perfect health. However, there are measures that can be taken at home to help prevent further straining…
One thing that I stick to is wearing really supportive tennis shoes all of the time. The shoes protect your foot while giving it support from every direction, a great thing to do for any foot injury! Another great thing to do is tape your foot while dancing. This helps to give it the support it needs, especially if unable to wear a brace. Tape is one of my go-to’s in my dance bag. I almost always have a roll of athletic tape with me at all times (’cause you never know when you might need it!). (http://www.plantar-fasciitis.net)I use athletic tape because it has the strength to hold your foot in place especially when sweating, but has a little bit of give creating some flexibility in order to move your foot while dancing. This is important because you don’t want to lose all of the strength in your foot while healing. Using a flexible but strong tape allows support without diminishing range of motion.
I’m also a huge proponent of massage. Either using a footsie roller, using a tennis ball, or just my hands; I like to keep the muscle tissue relaxed in and around the foot to help the healing process. I will often heat my foot before rubbing it down to make sure I’m not hurting it further from the pressure of the massage. Since the fascia in the foot is attached to the heel and leads into the calf and back of the leg I will also massage my calf to increase the healing and flexibility in my leg, which then affects my foot.
After a massage I will then do some strengthening exercises with a Theraband to keep my calf and foot muscles strong while I am healing. I also stretch out my legs quite a bit after the strengthening exercises to make sure the muscles stay loose. I find that yoga poses are very helpful for this! There is one stretch in particular that I find stretches the center of my foot much better than any other stretch (See picture on right of page). While sitting I stretch out my leg and grab onto my big toe. (Some people may do this cross-legged.) Then I slowly pull my big toe, towards me until I feel the stretch down the center of my arch. Once I feel a stretch in my arch I stop pulling and hold. This is one stretch you don’t want to push too far! Of course everyone might have their own variation of this stretch, and it is good to find what works best for you!
Many dancers find that icing their foot after class or rehearsal helps with the pain and the swelling. This is good to do for about a 1/2 hour after any intense physical activity especially while the foot is raised above the heart. (I like to do this while laying on my couch and watching T.V.) Also taking a pain reliever like Advil will help with pain management and reduce some of the swelling that can occur.
The final thing I do is mentally prepare myself that the healing process is going to take time, especially if I’m still being active while injured. (Particularly with this injury, it can re-occur throughout a dancer’s career, since there is always the potential to strain the ligaments in your foot.) This seems like a no brain-er but once you’ve been injured for 3 months and are starting to lose patience with your body you’ll hopefully remember this blog :). The healing time for my plantar fasciitis while still dancing on it was 5 months, but after that time I had little to no pain and my foot regained full strength and flexibility. Some dancers may have a faster or slower recovery time, but nonetheless you can still be in pain after 3, 4, and even 10 weeks after the initial injury. If you are able to take time off from your active lifestyle then the healing process will be quicker, but if not there is no point in rushing through healing. The more you rush the more scar tissue is created, making it impossible to every truly heal your foot. Just remember to take a deep breath and know that it will heal, eventually!
Thank you for reading my blog! Please check out the resources below to get any further research you might need on this top and if anyone else has other information or questions that they would like to share about this topic, please feel free to respond!
Resources to check out: