When we think of Dancers having large amounts of mobility at the ankle, our attention is often drawn the the extreme ranges of plantar-flexion (pointing) of the ankle and foot. And... although this is a key component and desirable aesthetic for Dance in general, there are some fundamental movements of the ankle that also have to be mastered in order for performance to be maintained and injury risk lowered.
With ankle impingements and chronic usage injuries being frequently reported complaints by Dancers it can often seem as though "it is inevitable that Dancers will get injured". Well... whilst injury, in the past, has been a product of being a Dancer it should still be our aim to eliminate risk so that we retain as many days Dancing as possible.
So... the focus of this article is ankle Dorsi-flexion. We will touch on some methods that are still relatively under utilised in Dancer and are now more common in professional sport settings.
Firstly, a brief and simplistic biomechanics lesson...
Large Ankle Dorsiflexion (Demi Plié)
Small Ankle Dorsiflexion (Demi Plié)
We require ankle dorsiflexion in order create flexion at the knee joint. From the research we know that low amounts of ankle dorsiflexion result in a low degree of knee flexion which is associated with higher ground reaction forces when landing from jumps. These higher ground reaction forces on landing are associated with injury and are a risk factors for a multitude of lower limb injuries.
Simply put... if we cant flex at the ankle we will not be able to absorb a landing safely when Dancing. Therefore we need to maintain ankle dorsiflexion and monitor it carefully. Performing simple stretches, mobility exercises, ankle strength work and single leg strength work is crucial for improving landing mechanics and having effective jumps.
Performing Eccentric loading for the achilles tendon/calf muscle complex, over time, can create compliance in a muscle-tendon unit to lengthen further which in turn would in turn allow for greater ankle dorsiflexion as the tendon is willing to lengthen.
Eccentric Calf Raises Step 1
Mobility Moves (video from Mobility WOD)
Performing isolated mobility drills as a small supplemental component to an effective exercise programme will aid in maintaining and improving joint mobility at the ankle, especially after a long day of Dance training but also prior to performing Dance Training or exercise.
In a later article we will concentrate on the single leg exercises and training that Dancers should perform in order to land well and build consistency on one leg. However, the emphasis of this article is to demonstrate the importance of Ankle mobility in opposition to constantly pointing the feet.
Large numbers of ankle injuries in Dance are achilles tendon related whereby there has been the onset of some form of tendinopathy. These injuries frequently occur when the load on a particular tendon is increased dramatically. This could be from one day to the next or one week to the next.
An example of this dramatic increase in load is going from performing very few jumps to a day of classes that focus on jumping. Similarly going from canvas shoe work to suddenly performing and practising a lot of pointe work.
Progressive loading of anatomical structures should always be advised and adhered to if we are to create robust Dancers who report injury less frequently.