Are foot stretchers safe for dancers to use? —Marissa
I've often wondered the same thing myself. There are several versions on the market, all promising to improve flexibility by holding the top of the foot in an extreme point. Many dancers swear by them, but to be sure, I asked Boyd Bender, physical therapist for Pacific Northwest Ballet. His advice? Use cautiously, especially if you have feet with flatter arches. "A foot stretcher might create more leverage through the mid-foot and arch area, and possibly create a flatter and more unstable mid-foot," he says. In other words, too much pressure could overstretch and weaken this foot type, increasing the tendency to roll in. Also, he warns that if you have a history of foot and ankle injuries, use a foot stretcher only in the presence of a health professional to ensure that you're not causing additional damage.
In addition, don't expect miracles. "You can only do so much with the structure of the foot," Bender explains. While dancers can gain some mobility by stretching soft tissues, the biggest determining factor of a pretty point comes from joint mobility—which is much harder to change. "Foot stretchers will only be effective until your foot and ankle reach skeletal maturity, which happens in your late teens."