Strengthening the feet

My daughter is nine and this year has started to complain of heel pain and sometimes knee pain. So I researched and have come to the conclusion that she has fallen arches. I did a water foot test and her arches are not flat or low but when you just look at her feet they look flat. When she points she has an o.k. line. I would also say her ankles over pronate . If I ask her to not let her ankles roll her feet don’t look as flat. So I guess I’m asking what I can do for her at home to strengthen her ankles before they move her in the fall to pre-pointe. She is moving quickly up and I want to prevent any injury I can. I have read of other dancers with this same problem and they talked about exercises. Do you have any suggestions? One more thing her teacher said no flip flops and very supportive shoes…

Thanks, Tracy


Great question, Tracy!  First, for those who don’t know what the water foot test is… you put a small amount of water in a shallow pan, enough to cover the bottom fully, then place one foot, then the other,  in the pan getting the bottom of the feet wet and then stand on a flattened brown paper bag or other nonwhite paper.  Once you step off the paper you’ll see an imprint of your foot on the paper.


The foot on the left describes a normal foot, the one in the middle a flat foot, and the one one the right a high arched foot.

Having pronated feet would look like the image on the left from the back.  Looking at the heel cord at the back of the ankle is a better way of seeing the rolling in of the foot.  The image on the right is a normal looking heel cord.  (It is the Achilles heel that you are looking at)


To strengthen her ankles, start slowly and simply by standing on one foot, in good alignment (weight even on the 3 points of the foot – not rolling in). Start standing for 1 minute, and work your way up to 3 minutes.  Toss a ball between your hands or turn your head and do port de bras as your standing on the one leg to challenge your balance.  It is such a simple exercise, practicing balancing – and the rewards are so great!  Balance gets better through practice.

Then have her practice standing on one leg and doing a very small demi plié, again without rolling in.  Can she do 8 repetitions without tiring?  It goes without saying that she’ll want to make sure she’s in good alignment.  Not tucking under her pelvis, or moving forward onto the balls of the feet during the descent, etc.  While she is doing the single leg pliés she should make sure the weight is staying even on the 3 points of the feet (pad of the big toe, little toe, and heel) and the knee is being directed over the foot.  Any strain felt in the knee area is a clue that her alignment is off.

Those 2 simple exercises – will create a strong foundation for her to work off of – so when she begins working her rélevés her balance and alignment will be rock solid.


“Education is the key to injury prevention”

4 replies
  1. karen
    karen says:

    Hi deb…does this apply to adults also? I am 49…dance in a modern group after years of studio dancing and some cechetti and especially my roght foot..pronate, fallen arch and tires easily. Would like to continue dancing but feel the strain….also weak hamstring and glutts. Are they all interconnected? Any other recommendations? Thank you!

    • deborah
      deborah says:

      I can’t say for sure, Karen, if all are interconnected but I would suspect so. When there are multiple problems on one side I always take a look at pelvic/torso shifting to see if there is a pattern of standing consistently shifted to one foot. Check your wear patterns on the bottom of your shoes, do you wear one out faster than the other?

  2. Tim
    Tim says:


    As a registered physiotherapist (physical therapist), I support your recommendation for the two exercises. I would emphasize the need to not roll in, as the exercises will not do what is desired if the individual allows her feet to pronate (i.e. roll in). There are other exercises that can be done to improve the arch and build the strength of the requisite muscles (especially the tibialis posterior). My recommendation is to have an assessment by a licensed/registered physical therapist, as they will be able to provide an individualized program to improve any identified challenges.

    I don’t believe that wearing “very supportive shoes” is the answer. This is a lazy and ineffectual approach. As soon as one wears “supportive shoes” or orthotics, the body no longer needs to develop it’s own support system because the shoes/orthotics are substituting for the body’s work. What happens when the dancer takes off the supportive shoes and puts on her dance shoes! The best thing to do is exercise the lower extremity (inclusive of the foot, ankle, knee and hip) to develop strength, endurance and proprioception (the latter is significant for dancers). If one wears orthotics or “very supportive shoes”, eventually this will lead to more weakness and injury.

    Registered Physiotherapist
    Father of 2 Highland Dancers


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