The Big, or First toe, plays a vital role in our balance when standing and push off when walking or running. Up to 90% of the control of our foot comes from the flexibility of the big toe. As we push off, our big toe needs to extend. This tightens the plantar fascia across the bottom of our foot and provides stability and shock absorption. A lack of toe flexibility leads to a loss in this stability and the muscles or joints further up the leg need to compensate. This compensation often causes problems and pain.
Compensations in the foot:
Push off from the ground during walking or running usually occurs through the first and second toes. If these toes cannot extend properly then the push will drift onto the other, smaller toes. These are not designed to take this load, so the resulting instability can lead to stress fractures and neuromas.
Compensations at the knee:
Sufficient big toe extension enables your foot to supinate (heel turns in) and your knee to externally rotate in able to achieve full extension. If the foot pushes off on toes 2-4 this places strain through the knee whilst decreasing the power in your stride. Therefore, not only are you more likely to experience knee pain, but you will be running slower in the process.
Compensations at the hip:
Without sufficient extension at our big toe our ability to extend the hip is severely affected. Our hip extension is connected to the knee straightening (see above) but the shift towards pushing off from the lesser toes can cause the hip to rotate laterally. At a time when you’re looking for strength and stability in this area, your body has to respond with these compensations that provide an unstable gait and less power.
This video from my Facebook page shows some simple stretches that can help you to improve your toe flexibility and strength:
If you have any questions or need some advice, please get in touch.