Q: I’m an older dancer/teacher and have some pain under my heel bone and Achilles tendon. I feel it most in the mornings and when I’m walking down stairs. Would wearing teacher shoes with heels help me?
A: Great question! Early morning foot and ankle problems are sometimes caused by sleeping with your feet in plantar flexion (pointed). That means you are spending six to eight hours a night with shortened gastrocnemius and soleus muscles (the two muscles that form the Achilles tendon.)
My sense is that the balance between your flexibility and strength is uneven. Demonstrating pliés at the barre will help to lengthen and stretch the soleus muscles, but won’t necessarily strengthen them. Unfortunately dancers often stop doing exercises that strengthen those two important muscles, like petit and grand allégro, when they become teachers.
Wearing a shoe with a small heel may be helpful if the problem is tightness caused by the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles putting strain where the Achilles tendon attaches at the heel bone. The shoes should take strain off the Achilles tendon, and if you focus your stretching efforts along the back of the leg, you may see improvements.
If the muscle strain is caused by weakness, try working with a TheraBand by pointing and flexing the foot against resistance, both with your knees straight and bent. Single-leg relevés with straight and bent knees are good, too, but be sure to slowly lower down from the ball of the foot.
If after a few weeks you don’t see results, please see your PT or doctor.