The Ills of Ballet Flats

Fashion strikes again! Once it’s in fashion, it’s good; it’s irrelevant what your podiatrist says, right?…Wrong! Like football boots, ballet flats were designed for the set discipline. However, this design somehow made its way into the fashion world, and has been, and continue to trend. There’s little or no consideration by its wearer about the damaging effects to the feet, legs and back. Most of us have never put thought into the fact that the body is interconnected. Therefore, if something is having an ill effect on the feet, it is guaranteed it can, and will start to affect the connected joints and elements of the body.


The Impact of Ballet Flats

Within dance, it is a known fact that ballet shoes provide little or no support. It is designed to anchor the dancer in a pointed position, but is in no way designed for comfort, or the health of your feet. In fact what these shoes are good for, is causing pressure on the varied joints, and contributing to back pains. These shoes are totally flat, and too flexible. If at all they are to be worn, it should only be short periods of inactivity, not periods requiring lots of standing or walking.

Professional dancers are no strangers to the perils of ballet shoes, which offer the feet little cushioning, leaving the lower leg and foot to absorb the full impact of movement. This puts increased pressure on the knees, hip and back, which over time can increase a person’s chance of developing arthritis. The lack of support offered by the shoe can also lead to painful muscle strain.  Ingrown toe nails, and split nails are also common amongst ballet dancers.

Pointe (ballet) shoes, contain a hard resin block in the toe box, and are the worst offenders, as they cramp and crush the toes, causing blisters, corns and split toe nails. They also exacerbate bunions and other foot deformities.

Pointe Shoes

Advice from The Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists for ballet fashionistas:

  • Consider wearing shoes with a strap or lace over the instep rather than slip-ons.  This will help stop your foot sliding forward, a bit like a seatbelt in a car.
  • Choose shoes with a toe box that is high enough and wide enough to comfortably fit, either rounded or square shaped, not pointed.
  • Footwear should have a firm thick heel to help with shock absorption, and a supportive arch to keep the foot in place.
  • Vary your shoe type and heel heights from day to day; avoiding wearing either extreme – flat or very high – on a frequent basis. For everyday use, it’s ideal to keep your heel height to 3cm.
  • Always wear the right shoe for the job. Not all foot problems can be prevented, but a large majority of problems do result or are exacerbated from incorrect or poor footwear. If you are going to be active, then wear a low heeled supportive shoe; heels are fine to don, if it’s for a special occasion.

Heels Versus Flats

 There are a lot of diagnoses attributed to heels, but there are just as many caused by flats. When a heel is too low, or the toe box area of a shoe too tight, the natural distribution of pressure in a step becomes concentrated and strained. This causes injuries that can lead all the way from the toe to the knee, back, hips, and even shoulders.

When it comes to flats-induced injuries, most commonly you’re talking about heel pain caused by plantar fasciitis. The constant trauma of landing hard on your heel, and the lack of arch support can cause the band of tissue running the length of your foot (the plantar fascia), to stretch and tear. Alternately, shoes that don’t provide enough room for the front of the foot, can lead to nerve inflammation, arising when toes cannot spread to distribute weight.

Some of us are under the impression that a little foot pain is normal, especially when you’re breaking something in. However, foot pain is almost never normal. If pain, fatigue, and swelling from new shoes, high heels, or slippers persists longer than one day, pay a visit to your podiatrist. In addition to assessing any underlying issues, exercises and or orthotics can be recommended, to address the specific structural or functional problems.

Similarly, wearing suspect shoes in moderation a few hours, preferably seated should save your soles. Use the same rule of thumb for flats that you should for higher heels. If you will be on your feet all day, keep a pair of shoes with you that’s more comfortable, then when you need to be in presentation or public mode, go ahead and wear the shoe.

A two-inch lift in the back of your shoe, is just the right height to take pressure off of the Achilles tendon, and relieve pain caused by plantar fasciitis. Start wearing the appropriate shoes… save yourself the stress, expense and most importantly the pain!

Your feet mirror your general health . . . cherish them!

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