It’s funny how we don’t realize how important those small body parts are, such as your big toe, until you fall down the stairs checking to see if your daughter is getting ready for bed. I’ve broken my little toes a few times, but that big toe brought the tears and a few choice words. Fortunately it isn’t broke, just a minor sprain, but I am amazed at how crucial my big piggy is.
Foot anatomy: 26 bones per foot with both feet making up a quarter of our body’s 206 bones, 33 joints, 100-plus muscles, tendons and ligaments. Dividing the foot into three subdivisions, we have the hindfoot, midfoot and forefoot. The hindfoot attaches to the tibia and fibula bones of the lower leg through the talus, aka the ankle bone, and onto the calcaneus, the heel bone. The midfoot has five bones that form the arches and the forefoot has our five toes, called phalanges, and five metatarsals which are those long, skinny bones on the tops of our feet. Now, about those toes…
Our toes help us balance, especially our big toe, which is the one that has brought the forefoot to the forefront of my mind. Try standing on one leg and lift your toes off the floor. Without your toes gripping the ground, your balance is pretty unstable. Now lay your toes down and you will feel them grip the ground and immediately improve your stability.
Our toes’ other purpose is to propel us forward when we walk and run. When walking, the heel strikes the ground first and slows our forward movement; the calves then engage pulling the heel up to accelerate the forward movement. From there, the toes give that last little bit of oomph in finishing the stride. Test this again by lifting your toes off the ground and walking. Your gate is extremely minimized as you are lacking the final push from your toes.
When running, our toes take on an even more important role. A lever is a simple machine that reduces the force necessary to move an object and as the length of the lever increases, the amount of force required to move the object decreases, lessening the workload. Our feet act as a lever beginning at the ankle, and with the addition of our toes our foot lever is lengthened requiring less force to move forward making it possible for us to run faster.
The big toe does the majority of the toes’ balance work. Again, stand on one leg and lift only your big toe. When you previously lifted all of your toes and laid them down, they all worked together to stabilize you. When just that one toe is off the floor, you will feel yourself shift to the outside of your foot and your entire foot must work overtime to keep you upright. Once you return your big toe to the floor, your weight is dispersed among the ball, heel and toes, with the big toe bearing about 40 percent of the toes’ load (C. Binns), explaining the extra fat padding on the bottom of your big toe.
With our toes under such pressure to perform, we have to keep them happy and healthy. When any joint’s movement is restricted it will tighten. Just as standing up after an extended sitting period, it takes our body, especially our backs, time to loosen up. The 33 joints in each of your feet are no different and they are meant to move, so take off those stiff shoes, even the softer tennis shoes, and give them some barefoot time. And for goodness sake, get out of those heels! Go ahead and put on your spikes for your special occasion, but too much time in them can lead to pain in the ball of the foot and can cause bunions, corns, calluses and hammertoe on the big toes. Finally at the end of the day, spoil your feet with massage paying special attention to the big toes.
Your big toes play big roles so take care of them. And our daughter? She got to bed on time.
Source: “Fact or Fiction? No Big Toe, No Go,” Corey Binns, “Scientific American.”
Sherrie Hebert is a certified personal trainer and Pilates mat and equipment instructor at her studio, Performance Pilates, and Gold’s Gym. You may contact her at 208-317-5685 or firstname.lastname@example.org and visit her Facebook page, Performance Pilates.