Oh how I love metatarsals! I love teaching that word to the little ones. They go home and show the adults in their life where their metatarsals are, and most adults sadly do not recognize this most important part of your foot.
Metatarsals, in a rather simplistic way, are the bones in your feet that attach your ankle to your toes. There are 26 bones in your feet comprised of 7 tarsals (sole of the foot), 5 metatarsals (after tarsals) and 14 phalanges (toes). These bones help form the arches that run across the foot and the length of the foot.
When discussing the foot, we group these bones into segments, the rear food, the mid foot and the forefoot. There are so 26 bones and 34 joints in the ankle-foot complex. The forefoot has my favourite bones, the metatarsals!
“Use the floor dancers!” is a common cue for ballet teachers. Anatomically, you are working the muscles of the foot, and especially those attached to the metatarsals. In ballet we desire to work through the entire muscle of the foot, making tendus and dégagés an extremely important exercise. The cue to work through the metatarsals or press into the floor is to encourage the dancer to use the floor. This focus gives the to press the toes into the ground for “pushing off” in locomotor movements. We emphasize pressing down into the floor as the foot foot slides forward on the floor, rather than just shape the foot into a point with little or not contact with the floor as it moves. By pressing into the floor we strengthen muscles of the feet as well as rehearse the skill of pushing down into the ground to generate the forces in the desired direction.
The arches of your foot are supported by the bones in your feet as well as fascia and ligaments. The plantar fascia is a special band of connective tissue that is very strong and inelastic. This attaches to the heel and runs forward, attaching to the toes and the heads of the metatarsals. The plantar fascia is important for support of the arch of the foot. It creates a truss like structure with the heel bones and the metatarsals. Strength here is needed to support your weight, jumping activities, balance poses, and twisting movements.
The joints where the metatarsals meet the toes must have significant strength and flexibility for toe-off during jumping movements. There must be an eccentric lengthening under the toes on releve to provide an adequate base. The eccentric lengthening allows the small muscles under the forefoot and toes to be long but strong and active.
The intrinsic muscles connect the heel with tarsal and metatarsal bones and are solely responsible for lengthening the toes. Deep muscles are also located between the metatarsals and phalanges; weakness with these intrinsic muscles can cause clawing of the toes. The toes must stay lengthened for push off skills for jumping.
When working on strengthening the foot and articulating the metatarsals, think about the dynamic energy along your arches. Each time you point your foot, align the 2nd and 3rd metatarsals with the tibia bone in a perfect line. Remember to lengthen under the toes to avoid clawing; this will give you a wider base during half-pointe. A wider base will promote a better platform for balancing.
Exaggerating turnout from the feet instead of working turnout from the hips creates a collapse of the medial arch. All dance styles require constant shifting of body weight, causing the arches to change form. Your arches must be strong enough to tolerate the changes. The medial arch needs to become rigid and secure in releve, lengthened but active in plie, and alive for balancing.
So much going on with those dancing feet! As you can see, the metatarsals are important in maintaining the arch in your foot, in lengthening the toes, higher jumps and in giving that lightness and articulation in the feet that is so beautiful in dance. The metatarsals are an important piece of balancing stability that should not be neglected. So give those metatarsals a nice treat, and thank you feet!