Stability of the foot and ankle: the impact of daily habits on dance training
Authors: Nancy Romita and Allegra Romita on behalf of the IADMS Dance Educators' Committee
The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art
Attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci
As you read this, freeze. Hold the position in which you currently find yourself. Do not adjust anything. Without judgment or shifting, notice the position of both feet. Does one foot have more weight on it than the other? Are both feet on the floor? Is there an even weight distribution? Is one foot or ankle a little more turned or rolled in or out? Are you sitting on one foot? Is a leg crossed and how does that affect the shape of foot and ankle?
There are 26 articulating bones in each foot to provide dynamic resilience. The ankle joint has a secure mortis and tenon configuration to generate stability during flexion and extension. The foot and ankle are elegantly designed to be stable enough to bear the weight of the body and resilient enough to navigate uneven ground, such as climbing rocks or walking through sand.
Stabilization of the ankle and foot is crucial for injury prevention and enhances the potential for efficiency in action. The foot and ankle provide the structural base of support for standing, walking, and dancing. 65% of dance injuries are related to habitual mis-stacking of the skeletal structure (Liederbach, 2018). It stands to reason that conscientious awareness to distribute the load of the foot develops the foundation for the stacking the skeletal structure. Unconscious habits in standing, sitting, or how you hold your feet while driving a car can either support the stability needed for the rigors in dance training or it can insidiously compromise it.
Injuries to the ankle and foot comprise 50% of all injuries sustained in dance (Conti & Wong, 2001, p. 43). Strengthening the surrounding neuromuscular structures of the foot and ankle is vitally important, but all the wonderful work in technique class, cross training in the gym, working on a Bosu ball, or using Therabands are compromised if unconscious foot habits undermine these actions by rolling in (eversion) or rolling out (inversion).
One tool to let go of habitual stance is to consider an anatomical visualization to enhance the integrity of foot stance. The tripod of balance is depicted in the image. The first point of this visualization is between the distal head of the first and second metatarsal. The second point is between the distal heads of the fourth and fifth metatarsal. The third point of reference is at the center of the calcaneus. The anatomical visualization of these skeletal landmarks can aid in moving out of habitual stance toward a balanced distribution of weight through the foot and ankle. The image provides a stable foundation for stacking the skeletal structure in static and dynamic balance. The three points are landmarks around which the muscles of the foot and ankle can navigate movement.
Try these self-explorations
In the next few days, notice how your foot rests when sitting at a computer or while driving. Is there a habit that relates to how your feet work while dancing?
The next time you find yourself between exercises at the barre or in teaching you are watching students move, notice your habit for the foot and ankle in standing.
Notice if your foot is sickled underneath the chair or you literally sit on one foot while reading or working at a computer. The toll on the lateral ligaments and tendons can create an imbalance and instability of that foot.
When you notice an imbalance, allow for a breath, release unnecessary tension in the feet, and visualize the weight evenly distributed through the tripod of balance.
In this approach of anatomical visualization through somatic practice, we invite you to consider balance, not as a station one arrives at, but rather as a way of traveling. Balance is not one position. It is a manner of being and shifts from moment to moment in lively response to the environment.
Habits in sitting, standing, and driving can either support or adversely affect the structural stability of the ankle and foot. Dr. Kenneth K Hansraj has linked daily habits of how we hang the head down to look at cell phone and the impact on postural balance with the health of the cervical spine.
(https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25393825). Further research on the correlation between habit and ankle injuries in dancers is warranted to prevent insidious weakness in the structure of the ankle from affecting the risk of injury in dancers. Bringing mindfulness to habit, and visualizing a balanced foot stance is one strategy to move toward balance and stability and support both dancing and the actions of daily life.
Nancy Romita (MFA, AmSAT, RYT), Senior lecturer Towson University, Director of Alexander Technique Mid Atlantic Teacher Training, and co-author of Functional Awareness Anatomy in Action for Dancers.
Allegra Romita (MA, CMA, RYT) is Dance Education faculty at NYU Steinhardt and currently pursuing a second graduate degree in motor learning and control at Teachers College, Columbia University, NYC. She is co-author of Functional Awareness Anatomy in Action for Dancers.
Hasraj, K. (2014). The assessment of stresses in the cervical spine caused by posture and position of the head. Surgery Technology International. XXV, 25:277-9
Conti, S. F., & Wong, Y. S. (2001). Foot and ankle injuries in the dancer. Journal of Dance Medicine and Science. 5.2: 43-50.
Leiderbach M. (2018). Epidemiology of dance injuries: Biosocial considerations in the management of dancer health: Strategies for the prevention and care of injuries to dancers. American Physical Therapy Association Orthopedic Section Monograph, Independent Study Course 18.1-3, La Crosse, Wisconsin.