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Single leg balance - Is it all in your big toe?

Single leg balance is required for so many dance movements - arabesques, pirouettes, adage combination's and more. It is one of the many components dancers need to master to progress in dance vocabulary.


Dancer's foot on demi pointe

A recent study delves into this feat uncovering the crucial role played by toe flexor muscles - specifically the Flexor hallucis longus (FHL) in achieving postural stability during demi-pointe. Researchers compared ballet dancers to non-dancers, focusing on the make up of muscles and postural stability.



 

KEY POINT: The findings revealed that ballet dancers possess stronger toe flexor muscles and larger cross-sectional areas compared to their non-dancer counterparts. This heightened muscular development correlates with enhanced postural stability, particularly in maintaining balance on demi-pointe.


 

So what is the FHL and where is it located?

The flexor hallucis longus (FHL) is a deep muscle located in the calf region of the lower leg. It runs along the backside of the leg, originating from the lower portion of the fibula bone and extending down to the big toe.


How does the FHL help with balance?

Its location deep within the calf region allows it to exert force across both the ankle and metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joints. When activated, the FHL helps to stabilize the foot by anchoring the toes and distributing weight more evenly across the forefoot.


Moreover, the FHL also aids in reducing pressure on the metatarsal heads, the bony structures at the base of the toes. By alleviating excessive pressure on these areas, the FHL helps prevent discomfort or injury, enabling dancers to perform with confidence and ease. FHL activation, therefore is crucial for maintaining balance and executing precise movements, making it an integral component of ballet technique and overall foot function.


The study highlights the importance of toe flexor muscles, especially the flexor hallucis longus (FHL), in bolstering postural control during ballet movements. In essence, Strengthening these muscles could potentially elevate a dancer's performance by improving balance and reducing the risk of injuries.


How can I strengthen my FHL?

Exercises that can help strengthen this muscle include towel scrunching and pointing into a resistance band or Pilates ball. Do you have any exercises you do to improve your FHL strength?


So, next time you are thinking about improving your demi-pointe balance, think about your FHL! I hope you have enjoyed this enlightening bit of information - Happy Balancing :)


For more information or a personalised plan to improve your balance book an initial appointment with Accredited Exercise Physiologist Julie now.










References

Ishihara H, Maeda N, Komiya M, Toshiro T, Urabe Y. Investigation of the relationship between the morphology

of the toe flexor muscles in ballet dancers and the postural stability during standing on demi-pointe: a cross-sectional

study. J Dance Med Sci. 2022;26(4):205-12.


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