There are several possible causes of Sickled Feet, also known as ‘Ballet dancer feet’. The structure of the bones in the feet and their characteristics as well as the mechanics can be inherited. There are also other external factors that can contribute to Sickled Feet. Some of them might surprise you.
Sickled Feet Causes
One of the most common causes of sickled feet is genetic. This means that the shape and the way in which the foot is arched can be inherited. For example, runners with a higher arch tend to be more prone to Sickled Feet than other athletes.
Examples of genetic (inherited) traits that can influence supination or sickled feet are stability, ankle width, foot length and possible differences in leg length.
The same is true for dancers, but even more so for those who naturally have a lower back and a lower back arch.
Sickle feet can also be caused by wrong footwear and the design of your shoes can affect your feet. A better designed shoe, for example, should provide sufficient support for the soft tissue of the foot. Remember that your feet are not flat, but have a certain curvature. Special shoes can help protect the foot from the impact of hard, flat surfaces. Shoe designs for certain activities such as running, climbing, walking and dancing can provide much-needed support for the arch.
Sometimes the cause of sickled feet in people or do sports or dancers is due to technique and poor execution. Improper form during exercise or poor technique can cause the body to lose balance. Note that there are some movements and actions that require certain parts of the body to work together. Examples are walking, running, jumping and others. When certain parts of a body are misaligned, other parts are involved and forced to work harder to maintain balance and correct posture.
When this happens, other muscles and bones have to work harder – in other words, they have to overcompensate. The soft tissues of the body are also affected. This can lead to injuries such as sickled feet. If you have an old injury, it can contribute to weakness and bone instability.
Of course, there are other possible causes that may contribute to this disease, including:
- prolonged standing
- restriction of the range of motion of the feet
- constant effects of the feet on hard surfaces
- a sedentary lifestyle
- pathological behaviour
- ankle instability
Ballet Dancer Feet
Dance historian Cyril W. Beaumont (and Stanislas Idzikowski) described in his masterpiece ‘The Cecchetti Method of Classical Ballet: Theory and Technique’ the correct foot position for ballet dancers. He said that a dancer’s foot should be extended as far as possible with instep force and peak force.
It is a serious mistake for a dancer to push their foot outwards and point his heel backwards. The dancer’s foot is crescent, the toes curved and the heel lowered. This position distorts the continuous line of sight that runs from her shins to her foot.
Dance teachers have broadened Cecchetti’s classical definition. Sarah Arnold, a ballet teacher with 30 years experience, explains that sickled feet happens in dance moves, positions, releases, retirements, elevates, glissades, jets, you name it. Every time a dancer points their foot from the bar into the air or onto the floor, it is sickle. Sickle feet are not uncommon, she says.
Arnold created the YouTube series ‘#Endsickledfeet’ to educate dancers about the problem. The correct foot position starts on the back. Arnold says rotating the foot doesn’t have to start at the knee or ankle. Training builds strength, deepens the technical understanding of the dancers and develops body awareness.
Dance training is also important to understand and prevent sickled feet. New dancers need to develop awareness of their foot-oriented position, a skill called proprioception. Research shows that professional ballet dancers develop an awareness of the position of their ankles, knees and hip joints which allows them to move freely. Without developing this awareness, dancers cannot feel where they are and perform movements correctly. With proper training, the dancers sharpen their ability to sense where their limbs are and where not.
Sickled feet can occur when a dancer is not strong enough to hold the feet in the correct position. With time and training, dancers can build strong limbs, legs, ankles and foot muscles so sickled feet are less of a problem. There are studies of professional dancers who have spent years developing strength and skills to avoid sickled feet and jump much faster than athletes with little or no dance training.
Studies have shown that the biomechanics of the ankles change in a way that can lead to injury when dancers are exhausted by repeated jumps. Dancers should concentrate on developing their core stability to build endurance and prevent lower body injuries.
If a trainer, ballet teacher or parent notices that a dancer has sickled feet, they should recommend seeing a physiotherapist who has experience in treating dancers. Early intervention can help prevent ankle stress and is crucial for the prevention of further injury. In younger dancers, physiotherapists can work with dancers to pick up subtle insights, identify problems and correct habits.