Have you ever considered the important role which your big toe has in how you walk? This toe needs to be able to move freely so that you can walk or run without pain.
How we move : the role of the toes
When we walk or run, strike a heel on the ground, our toes extend upwards (dorsiflex) towards the sky. We then load our weight on to the heel and roll the weight through the foot before springing off the ball of the foot, again with the toes extended. This action helps a person to spring forward with propulsion. However, it only works when the big toe can move freely. Try curling your toes over and then walk normally. Notice the difference. Notice how suddenly flat footed you have become; how hard it is to move forward.
The big toe needs to be able to extend (point upwards) by as much as 65°, but soft tissue restriction, injury or osteoarthritis may prevent this. This does not mean a person is unable to move around, but it is very likely that this person’s body will need to compensate for this lack of movement further up the body. They may discover they notice pain in their knees or hips, or they may notice they develop an unstable gait, feeling a bit wobbly on one leg.
Limited big toe movement will mean a limited mobility at the ankle. When the ankle is unable to move well, the knees and hips are unable to extend fully. This in turn makes the hip flexors tighten and a person may experience lower back pain as a result. You can see how a problem at one end of the body can have effects further up the chain.
Toe restrictions : what to do
If you hurt your big toe, have an injury, even just have been wearing an inflexible pair of shoes habitually, the toe joint will protect itself. It does this by thickening and binding down the fascia in the area, to give more support and cushioning to the joint. Once any injury has subsided, it is important to encourage the toe to move well again. Due to our generally sedentary lifestyles, this may not happen enough of its own accord. Over time, the natural toe movement can become more and more reduced. Occasionally a restricted big toe can lead to a bunion forming, as the immobile toe bone deviates gradually towards the smaller toes, or osteoarthritis and/or bone spurs may start to form. These scenarios can be painful and make it difficult to get good mobility again in the toe.
A gentle manual massage treatment to encourage toe mobility can be extremely beneficial. The toe needs to be encouraged to move, not forced. Any force will make the brain perceive threat and the muscles will begin to ‘guard’, they tense up to protect the area. Gentle exercises by a person each day are also essential to increase the range of movement gradually.
Our big toes are crucial to our ability to move as pain free as possible. A little time spent ensuring there are no muscle or fascial restrictions in this area will reap you big rewards.