Q: I have adult ballet students who are asking me about foot cramping, soreness and achiness when dancing, especially in the heel and arch area. Could it be plantar fasciitis?
A: Feeling soreness and pain in the heel and arch area can be a sign of plantar fasciitis. The plantar fascia is a thick band of tissue that runs from your heel to your toes. The typical symptoms of plantar fasciitis are pain in the heel area, especially first thing in the morning or after sitting for a long time, and it worsens after being on your feet for a long time. Women ages 40 to 60 with either flat/pronated feet or high arches are at the greatest risk. That said, I've seen plenty of under-40 dancers be diagnosed with fasciitis because they don't work their turnout correctly. It's not unusual to have a secondary diagnosis of heel spurs, which are created through excessive fascial pull on the heel bone.
So what to do? First spend some time releasing tension from the foot and calf by rolling out on a pinkie ball and/or using massage to loosen up the muscles. Next, begin to strengthen the intrinsic foot muscles by doing exercises like playing the piano with your toes or pointing your foot while lengthening and separating the toes. It's also essential to learn how to balance correctly on one foot by keeping the weight even between the pads of the big toe, little toe and heel. Lastly, make sure turnout is happening at the hip joint rather than turning out at the feet.