The big toe might be the Rodney Dangerfield of the body. It don’t get no respect!
Whether you’re a runner or not, you will benefit from stronger, more competent feet—particularly the big toe, or hallux. Hallux mobility and stability are critical to how the foot absorbs shock, stabilizes the stride, stores energy, and pushes off.
Without adequate foot mobility and strength, any number of problems may arise, including pain in the ankles, shins, knees, hips, and lower-back. When foot problems arise, we tend to rely on inserts, special shoes, tape, and other external aids to solve our problems. There’s a better way: Mobilize the feet and make them strong and engaged, starting with the big toe.
If there’s a foot problem then I’ve either had it or I’m going to get it. Currently, I’m battling a tasty little bit of metatarsophalangeal joint pain in my left foot. My symptoms are described to a T in this article from Merck.
I am frustrated but I can overcome it. I’ve overcome a host of other frustrating aches and pains. On that note, I’ve found a series of strength and mobility drills that I’m going to play with and see what happens. It’s from the innovative people at GMB.io. The full article is here. There are three videos in the article. I’m exploring this one now:
When was the last time you walked into the gym and said, “Okay, it’s foot day! Let’s get to work?”
Most of us aren’t too excited about building strong, healthy feet, probably not until we encounter pain. But why not? After all, it’s only every single step that we need those lower appendages to work well. Unless you don’t have feet, unless you walk on your hands, or maybe unless you live on a planet without gravity, then there’s no question you need a pair of mobile, stable, well-functioning feet.
And if we encounter foot trouble then we want to put in an orthotic, buy shoes with arch support, or do something other than make the feet stronger. Why is it that we don’t think to treat the feet like the rest of the body? Why don’t we see the need to work the feet like all the other muscles and body parts we have? I suggest that rather than resort to external aids we should work the feet in a wide variety of ways. Here are a few ways to do just that.
I don’t promise that any of these exercises will fix a specific injury. If anything hurts then back off. See a physical therapist, chiropractor, or podiatrist for a full diagnosis and treatment strategy.
Big toe adduction/abduction
There’s no fancy name for this exercise. You can experiment with all sorts of bands. Please notice that I do this exercise under control. I’m controlling the exercise, the band isn’t controlling me. Allow the big toe to come in far enough that you feel a stretch.
Toe differentiation (aka yoga toe)
Can you do this? You should be able to. It may seem 100% impossible when you first try it. Keep working on it. Most people can figure it out in a day. Takes work and concentration. Take notice of my arch and inner ankle. Notice that the arch doesn’t drop, and my ankle doesn’t dive in as I move my big toe.
Toe grabs on a box
Sounds like one of Vincent van Gogh’s very obscure works. It’s not. I just don’t have a better name for it. It works well though. I learned it from Denver chiropractor extraordinaire Dr. Nick Studholme. You can do this on the top of a flight of steps or over a book.
This is a quick, easy way to engage, stimulate, and strengthen all of the muscles of the lower legs and feet. Try it and see how you feel.