By Shila Tirabassi
Question: What ankle (and other) strengthening exercises can I do so that I'm not dancing the Waltz of Bambi every time I go on pointe? My ankle still tests positive for a high grade ankle sprain so I was wondering if it's not just ankle strengthening that I have to rely on.
For dancers, healing from an ankle sprain can be a much longer, more arduous process than meets the eye. Part of that is because we locomote on our two legs, not allowing it to fully rest during the initial stages of healing. The other reason is that we can return to dancing way before we’re ever able to do big jumps again, always testing the waters of our limits, often taking two steps forward and one step back. Although complete recovery requires patience, it can be a very informative time that could end up being a great learning experience.
Swelling can be surprisingly present long after the injury. Try natural anti-inflammatories like ginger and turmeric. Research suggests that turmeric is more effective than over the counter ibuprofen. Also, newer research is now stating that icing can perhaps slow down the healing process, as it slows the flow of important chemicals to the site of injury that promote the healing of the damaged tissue. Not only that, natural swelling acts like a brace which prevents you from reinjuring it. So icing the ankle much longer than the initial few weeks of the injury is not necessary, but can still act as a pain reliever.
For dancers, strengthening is a requirement to regain the functionality and control needed to be elegant on your toes again. Beyond the RICE (rest, ice, compress, elevate) here are some tips that can help you regain strength and take care of the precious feet that usually take care of you.
Write the alphabet with your foot: With the foot in the air, write the alphabet with your foot. Try to reach all the edges of space with your toes, not to cut any letters short. This brings back a full, dynamic range of motion.
Balance on one foot: Sometimes known as “storking” in PT language, balancing on one foot brings back the coordination of the intrinsic and extrinsic muscles of the foot, meaning the muscles that begin in the shin as well as the muscles on the foot itself. Prepare your arch by lifting it and balance until your ankle gets tired. Increase difficulty by swinging your arms, closing your eyes, or a combination of both!
Theraband: Use the theraband around the ball of the foot to add resistance to pointing your toes. Then place the theraband around the pinky edge of the foot and do three reps of 12 times pressing your foot out to the side (AKA winging). These are important muscles to reinforce because in common sprains, the damaged ligaments are on the outside ankle.
Dome: Strengthen the transverse arch of your foot – the arch that runs crossways just beneath all 5 toes by placing the foot flat and dome that arch without scrunching the toes – this will make your arch look better too!
Self – care: Massage the entire length of the shin beginning at the top below the knee all the way to the ankle, just to the outside of the shin bone. Massage the full length of the calf all the way to the Achilles tendon and give that tendon some love. Massage the outside edge of your shin from the top of the fibula all the way to the ankle.
Raise the legs: Lie on your back and lift your legs up the wall at the end of a long day. This allows the flow of blood to release from pooling at the ankles and will reduce swelling.
Patience is key. Give your feet lots of love and they will love you back. One day your injured ankle may end up the stronger one! Happy Dancing.
Photo Credit: Madison McGrew