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The Importance of the Big Toe in Movement and Activity




How could such a small part of the body be so important?! The big toe is so vital that if you lose use of it, you will be off balance and falling everywhere. If you break one of your smaller toes, there is nothing to do about it, but if you break your big toe it is either splinted or surgery is performed to make sure it is functional. Amazing how much a toe can do for us! Let’s discuss the different ways that we use our big toe and what we can do to make sure it moves well and is strong!


Balance and the Big Toe


I want you to take the next 30 seconds to safely attempt to balance on one foot, keep the countertop close in case you need to grab it. Where do you feel your body working? What do you see moving? Most of our balance happens from our foot, some from our knee, and some from our hip as well as our vision and equilibrium.


Now, try it again, but this time focus on pressing your big toe down into the ground while keeping your foot flat on the floor. Notice any changes in your balance? As soon as we engage our big toe muscles, we should gain stability through our foot and ankle and therefore our balance increases.


Believe it or not, even when we are standing still on both feet, we are using our big toe to keep us grounded and help us balance even when we don’t try.


Walking and the Big Toe


Another test for you to try. Take a short walk across the room and attempt to NOT let your big toe touch the ground. What do you have to do in order to make this happen? How does your walking pattern change?


The normal walking pattern should go: heel contact → flat foot → push off your toes (specifically your big toe). If we lack mobility in our big toe the tendency is to push off the inside of our foot OR we don’t push off at all and just pick our foot up early. Both of these compensations can lead to pain elsewhere and limit tolerance with walking.


Squatting, Stooping, Lunging, and Kneeling and the Big Toe


Whenever we bend down, in whatever manner, our big toe has to move, stabilize, and assist us to get in that position, maintain the position, and return to standing. Go ahead, try to stoop down like you’re going to pick up something from the ground and see what your big toe does.


If you don’t have the mobility you need in your big toe, these positions can be difficult, painful, or impossible. But, have no fear! It is very possible to gain mobility in your big toe through stretching and mobilizations that a physical therapist can help you with.


Take Care of your Big Toe


After you’ve tried a few of these little tests above and analyzed how your big toe is working, you can see where limitations in this body part could lead to your pain, lack of balance, or difficulty completing everyday tasks. I can assess your mobility and strength and balance to determine how your big toe and/or entire lower leg is a part of your problem and then get a plan together to help you master the painful movements. Let’s do this! Schedule a consultation here!

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