Why are Intrinsic Foot Muscles so Important for Dancers?

Foot Pain Specialist for Dancers Sydney

The intrinsic foot muscles are four layers of small muscles in the foot that are fundamental for dancers. They control small foot and toe movements and play a crucial role in the structural support of the arches in the feet (yes, there are more than one!). It is essential for dancers to have good coordination and strength in the intrinsic foot muscles. This article will expand on how to make sure your intrinsic foot muscles are functioning well.


What are the intrinsic foot muscles?

11 muscles and tendons that make up the deepest layers of muscle in the feet!

The intrinsic foot muscles have many roles:

  • Stabilise and support the long medial arch of the foot particularly when working on one leg and whilst jumping, landing and holding a rise.

  • Maintains good function and alignment in motion.

  • Allows good articulation, range of motion and dexterity in the pointed foot.


What does good intrinsic foot control look like?

A few little self-tests you might be able to check the level of control you have in your intrinsic foot muscles might include (from easiest to hardest):

  • Having good articulation when pointing the feet in a multitude of movements. An example for ballet may be seeing a demi-pointe before a full pointed position in a tendu or having a nice smooth articulation of the foot and ankle when pulling a foot up into retire

  • Being able to spread or splay the toes apart from each other

  • Being able to pointe the foot whilst keeping the toes long and straight rather than ‘crunching’ or ‘curling’ the toes.

  • Being able to balance on one leg without ‘crunching’ or ‘curling’ the toes.

  • Being able to lift the long arch of the foot also known as ‘doming’ or ‘shortening’ the foot in a coordinated way.

  • Being able to lift and lower each toe


What is the cost of poor intrinsic foot control as a dancer?

  • Increased incidence and severity of digital deformity eg. claw toes, bunions

  • Decreased pointe range, articulation and technical ability in ballet

  • Higher rates of fatigue and instability, particularly in single leg balancing, jumping and landing movements.

  • Instability and impacted ability to participate safely in pointework

  • Difficulty remaining stable in turning combinations.

  • Hindered shock absorption ability.

  • Higher risk of lower leg overuse injuries and falls.


How do we improve intrinsic foot control?

  • Practice the self-test exercises above, improving strength begins with coordination.

  • Walking barefoot for short distances on soft surfaces such as sand can improve function of the intrinsics. You should always ensure that the surface is free of objects that could pierce or cut the skin.

  • Consider the impact of footwear on the function of the feet. Every day shoes should be supportive and fit well.

  • Seek podiatrist assessment and assistance to ensure exercises are tailored to improve specific weaknesses and concerns.


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


If you are concerned about intrinsic foot injury and strength, book with Performance Podiatry today. Our podiatrists are experts of all conditions of the foot and lower leg and would be happy to help you participate in ballet and dance supported, strong and pain-free.

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The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.