Are orthotics bad for ballerinas and dancers?

orthotics for dancers ballerinas

Orthotics for dancers and ballerinas.

A common misconception that we hear is that foot orthotics work like ‘crutches’ and make the muscles in the feet weak. The idea is that they ‘hold up’ the arch of the foot and therefore, weaken the foot and ankles muscles due to not having to work to support the arch of the foot.

If this misconception were true, there would be great concern for their use in dancers who require a great amount of foot strength and coordination. Thankfully for our dance community, this theory is far from the truth. Below we will detail why orthotics are not bad for dancers and how we use them to treat our dance podiatry patients.

Why are orthotics not bad for dancers?

There are two main goals for using orthotics:

  1. To optimise dynamic foot function. These orthotics are designed with the goal of acting on the force and movement patterns to make movement more efficient. These are known as functional foot orthoses or devices.

  2. To accommodate deformity or offload specific areas of high pressure. These orthoses are often designed to cushion the foot, shift pressure from a painful spot or add height to one or both sides in the case of a diagnosed leg length discrepancy. These orthotics do not aim to change the dynamic forces acting on joints of the feet. These are known as accommodative foot orthotics.

From a podiatrist’s perspective, an accommodative orthotic would be the most similar to a ‘crutch’, however that description is still a misrepresentation. The important thing to note is that these devices are rarely, if ever, prescribed for dancers!

In the case of a dancer, or someone with a recent history of injury, pain or increased requirements of the feet and lower limbs, a functional foot orthotic is the go-to with the specific goal to affect dynamic foot function. So, especially where dancers are concerned, orthotics prescribed could seldom be compared to a ‘crutch’.

The benefits of orthotics for dancers and ballerinas.

Functional orthotics in most cases are custom designed for each individual person and their needs, so the following are just a few ways they can be commonly utilised to help dancers!

1. Orthotics improve forces and mechanics acting on the function of the big toe joint.

This can reduce risk of bunions, improve pointe range, assist with building a strong demi-pointe and in some cases, decrease risk of a dancer’s fracture (stress fracture of the 2nd metatarsal bone), and/or decrease pain in the arch or the ball of the feet.

2. Orthotics improve lateral ankle strength and proprioception over time.

This can assist to reduce sickling, lateral ankle sprains and instability, build a strong demi-pointe, improve supported ‘fishing’ of the foot and/or decrease pain in the ankle or lateral (outside) of the feet.

3. Orthotics improve the forces and mechanics acting on the toes.

Improves intrinsic foot strength, pointe range, extension of the foot and ankle to build those supported ‘banana’ feet, reduces likelihood of developing claw toes, hammertoes, neuromas, corns, callus, blisters and a list of other pain in the ball of the foot and toes.

Whilst functional foot orthotics would not be worn during dance activities or class, the benefits of wearing functional foot orthotics can be felt beyond the dance studio. By optimising walking, running and other movements using orthotics, we have the potential to greatly assist dancers beyond their time spent wearing these foot orthotics.

Not everyone requires functional foot orthotics, but they can assist in most cases. There are many other options a dancer could chose to assist with improvement in the feet, ankles and legs, it is just a matter of aligning each dancer’s goals with the ideal treatment plan. Podiatrists are the experts in assessing and prescribing functional foot orthotics for everyone’s individualised goals and we at Performance Podiatry pride ourselves on providing these services in particular to dancers of all skill level.

Why dancers should see a podiatrist.

A podiatrist can help to emphasise the specific risks affecting each dancer based on extensive foot function testing, level of experience in ballet and dance, as well as medical and family history.

Make an appointment with our specialist dance podiatrist. 

Tayla Forland is a specialist dance podiatrist and is qualified to treat all podiatry problems. Tayla has completed further specialist training and certifications to assist all dancers with pre-pointe preparation and assessments, pointe shoe fitting and Progressing Ballet Technique (PBT). Tayla has a specialised interest in foot and leg injuries, pain and conditions associated with ballet, dance and artistic sports for clients of all ages and experience levels.

With over 17 years of experience as a dancer, Tayla developed a passion for dance podiatry. This means that she has a specialised interest in foot and leg injuries, pain and conditions associated with ballet, dance and artistic sports for clients of all ages and experience levels.

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