All toes are created equally, right? Wrong. Your big toes may play a much larger role in your body’s overall movement than you may have initially guessed. Impressively, it can alter the movement of your entire body (head to toes).
Try this out: grab a friend and get them to stand straight with their eyes closed and their weight evenly distributed. It is also important to note that they should have relatively neutral posture, without their weight being excessively placed into the balls or heels of their feet. Next, use your hands to help guide their right big toe into the air with the remainder of their foot staying planted on the ground.
Proper passive extension of the great toe while standing is estimated to be 45-60 degrees at the metatarsal phalange joint (MTP). Now if you are dealing with someone who has normal ranges of motion throughout their toes and feet, you can expect to see subtle movement occurring throughout the entire body. The medial arch of the foot lifts causing slight supination of the foot, the right leg will slightly rotate externally out to the right side, meanwhile your torso and shoulders will also rotate to the right.
The issue is, many of us lack the proper mobility of our big toes from years of compressive footwear. Eventually the use of high heels and narrow toe boxes will change the movement of our feet. This causes unnatural movement not only at the level of the foot, but also affects the entire kinetic chain from the feet up. Our body establishes a compensatory mechanism in the foot often leading to a bunion, so that we can continue to move, walk, and run as normal as possible. These patterns frequently lead to knee pain, shin splints, hip and low back pain. This issue is magnified and far more important in runners due to the increased number of steps (180 steps per minute x 8 min mile = 1,440 steps per mile).
Let the pro’s at Boulder Sports Chiropractic look at the whole kinetic chain and evaluate your issue.
Tips to improve foot motion:
1) Stop wearing heels. Heels instantaneously change the position of the foot and ankle and cause the muscles in the back of the lower leg to be in a constricted position for long periods of time. They also cause excessive weight to be placed on the toes in an already constrictive shoe. When possible, look for a shoe that has a ‘zero drop’. This means that the height of the heel is level with the height of the balls of your feet and toes.
2) Look for a shoe with a wide toe box. This essentially give your toes “room to breathe” and helps each toe to stay better aligned with its respective metatarsal of the foot.
3) Invest in toe spacers. Whether you are in the market to go all in with heavy duty toe spacers such as Correct Toes, or only interested in dabbling in the 99 cent store pedicure toe spacers, both options will momentarilyhelp give your toes the space they crave.
4) Strengthen your feet. Wake up your Flexor Hallucis Brevis (FHB) with short foot exercises. This is a special muscle on the bottom of your foot that originates on your cuboid and cuneiforms, travels over the sesamoids on the 1st metatarsal head (ball of foot) and inserts on the proximal portion of your great toe. It causes a shift in the sesamoid position, which mechanically prevents the MTP joint from locking out too early.
Practice foot control with a few of these exercises at home. With feet on the ground, practice lifting the big toe straight into the air, keeping the smaller toes relaxed (picture 1). Lower the big toe back down to the ground and raise the 4 smaller toes into the air (picture 2). Throughout this cycle, keep the toes relatively straight while avoiding significant flexion at the toe joints, also known as a hammer toe position (picture 3).