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Just try to grab your heel... OUCH! HELP!


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Mr. Mel or Ms. Leigh,


I was taking a class last week with a new instructor to fill in for a missed class, and we were executing a heel stretch - leg straight up in the air with the hand on the heel, repeat to the side.


I'm not very flexible. I really could not grab my heel, but was using my ankle which was a little more realistic for my stretch, I cannot execute the splits.


The instructor asked me to "try and grab the heel", which I complied with and I totally wrecked my back. I now have a severe shooting sciatic pain down my right side (which was my supporting leg at the time) and I'm at the chiropractors. I've been on muscle relaxers and motrin since I did this. I cannot raise my right leg behind me due to shooting pain.


I realize as an adult that the exercises are optional if we feel we cannot do them, but what I'm really wondering is that perhaps this exercise is rather dangerous, especially for us lower flexed and older dancers who tend to get lower back spasms... which I have had a boatload of recently (cambre forward comes to mind).


I'm curious if this exercise is really a good idea, if there is a different way of stretching the leg without grabbing the heel, is it safer to do some other way, or just bag it entirely? I think I put entirely too much stress on my lower back in trying to get my heel up and extend it and I really must have been a sight.


Any suggestions? Thanks for listening to me whine. I am bummed I am not able to go to class. :)

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That stretch should not be done by anyone except very on-track, daily students at the upper intermediate to advanced level. I would not give that to adult students at all except to those in an advanced class. It is an extremely difficult stretch to do correctly, and for some just difficult to do at all. Even good students will do that stretch very badly unless they are watched carefully and not allowed to distort the hips, lean back, roll the supporting knee on the way out of the plié, and generally just totally distort everything. :) I do like, and use this stretch, with my students in the upper division, however, they are not allowed to do it with distortion of any kind, and if they cannot do it with holding the heel then they hold the lower leg or ankle.

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Sorry to hear about your injury. You might have a physician look to see if your sacroiliac joints are in correct placement. Due to us older dancers having less flexiblity in our backs, it pulls things out of place... I myself have had to go through physical therapy a couple times to adjust my SI joints back into the correct alignment and to strengthen other things to keep them in place. The pain down the leg sounds very familiar, as well as the pain doing a cambre forward. The stretch you described is difficult if the flexibilty is not there...I have a teacher that asks for us to hold not the heel, but attempt it by grabbing the end of the toes!(Hey kids, Don't try this one at home) It takes a lot of strenth in the standing leg to pull it off, as well as the flexibility. The nice thing is, our instructor will let us decide for ourselves our limits. Good luck in recovering.

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Thank you Ms. Leigh,


It is what I figured - too advanced for me to be doing without strict supervision. I was holding my leg just above my ankle and was doing fine until I held the heel, my alignment disappeared and I totally pulled my back coming out of plie.


I'm just not going to do it at all unless as you mentioned, I'm more advanced and I have very strict supervision, plus I have a lot more flexibility. That might take about 3 to 5 years, or never.


I now have shooting sciatic pain, and I'm clearly squeezing some nerves and won't be able to take class for a while.


I appreciate your response. :cool:






Thanks for the information, I'm seeing my doc today and I'll ask him.

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I'm marginally better today after a weekend of heating pads, vitamins, ibuprofin, hamstring stretching, and hot baths with more stretching. This is so painful!


Supposedly this takes about 2 weeks - which I'm finding is about right.


Patience is in short supply here! :P

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Supposedly, not one movement is injury-free, but stretching this way (with legs to their maximum, with no recovery possible, like in a developpé for eg where your leg can just drop if it's too high or with bad posture) is really not good unless you know what you're doing. I would question the insistence by this teacher :) , especially since you could only do it holding the heel (which is already good for a first attempt).


I was told from a very young age that if you had to go down to reach for the foot (instead of the foot going towards your hand) and therefore had to roll the back, you were not ready to achieve the pied dans/jambe à la main at all.


Be careful when asked to do something you clearly are not ready for... Some teachers will push you beyond your capability; it's ok to go beyond your comfort zone, not beyond your 'healthy' zone!! ;)

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