The Big Toe: What’s the Big Deal?


When was the last time you sat down (or, stood up) and assessed the mobility of your big toe? It’s just a toe right? The only time most people even think about their big toe is when a) they are digging their toes in sand, b) there is something in their shoe, or c) their toe hurts. Even when pain in the toe develops, many people wait months to seek treatment; after all, it’s just a toe! What’s the big deal?

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The big toe is the most essential lever in your lower body. When it’s not being pulled, the big toe is a key component of your balance. During walking, the big toe pulls upward to help keep your inner arch taut and absorb shock. When jumping, the big toe helps your calf muscles work efficiently, helping you to jump up and grab a rebound. Lastly, when you propel your body forward during walking or running, your big toe provides a rigid lever to help push you off the ground.
A big toe that can’t move up and down creates a whole series of trouble for your lower body. Without an arch, your foot collapses, and other joints (such as your knee, hip, or back) absorb the shock. Athletes that lose the ability to move their big toe end up inefficiently moving, jumping, and cutting, causing their performance to suffer and/or pain to develop.
A simple way to assess the mobility of your big toe is to stand up and watch it move. Remove your socks and shoes, and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping weight equally divided between your heels and balls of your feet, extend your big toes upward. Do they both stick up equally high? Did they move at all? Now, shift your weight onto one foot, and try lifting that toe upwards. Did it move just as high?
If your toes don’t move, or one doesn’t move as well as the other side, it’s a good idea to work on mobility. Try the following exercises to improve the mobility in this key area:

  • Self Mid-foot Pronation
  • Plantar Fascia Release