While most people are aware of the importance of the glute and core muscles, very little focus is given to a very important yet overlooked area of the body …. the big toes. While they may be small in comparison to some of the other joints, the big toes have a vital role to play in influencing the movement of the rest of the body.
It’s no coincidence that the big toe is much bigger than the rest. It should be the last point of contact with the ground as we take each step. Effective use of the big toe allows the body to be more efficient in walking by returning up to 17% of the energy generated with each step. It also helps to make sure that the correct muscles (such as the glute muscles) are activated as we walk. For the females out there (and possibly the males?) you have no doubt experienced the difference between walking with a dysfunctional big toe. Compare the ease of walking in a pair of high heels with a pointed toe box to those of a flat shoe. Balance becomes difficult and the length of each step reduces to more of a shuffle.
The big toes are also a large contributor to balance. The big toe, little toe and heel create a “tripod” of the foot which gives the foot the ability to shift it s pressure according to the position of the rest of the body. As our bodyweight shifts slightly from side to side when we walk, our big toe helps to control the amount of movement through the foot. A study by Chou et. al looked specifically at the role of the big toe in balance, and found that when the big toe was constrained and unable to function properly, the subjects balance testing results were significantly worse. It is estimated that around 80-90% of the control of the foot comes from the big toe.
What happens when the big toes don’t act as they are designed to?
The most common injuries that have been linked to big toe function are plantar fasciitis, achilles problems and various knee conditions.
Test yourself out and see how healthy your big toes are:
- Can you lift and wiggle your big toe off the ground while you keep the other toes down?
- Can you lift your other toes off the ground keeping the big toe on the ground?