It’s tiny joint, but your big toe joint (MTP) can be an important one. Yep, you probably don’t often think of your big toe unless you are stubbing it on some concrete path or whacking it on some furniture, but it’s a key joint for balance and locomotion- not to mention running. As you push off, your big toe must extend which causes your plantar fascia to tighten which helps to stabilize the foot. This rigidity it causes in your foot as it extends is good because it makes a strong lever for propulsion.
If you are lacking motion in your big toe, other areas might compensate like the following:
- Decreased Hip Extension: the foot comes off the ground too soon not allowing the hip to get full range of motion.
- Increased Knee Flexion (bend): The foot is forced to push off the lateral 4 toes which externally rotates your lower leg and prevents full knee extension. This could lead to knee pain and an efficient running gait.
- Excessive supination: meaning your are weight-bearing more on the lateral part of your foot with a turned in heel which is less stable.
So what to do?
A quick positional assessment can give you an idea of your big toe function. Kneeling with your toes tucked under you, sit back on your heels and try and get you toe flat on the ground. Pay attention to what you see and feel. If you feel a stretch in the heel or bottom of your foot, it’s most likely your plantar fascia, so it’s ok to stretch it gently. If you feel more of a pinching in your toe, it might mean you have Hallux Rigiditus or some joint restrictions due to osteoarthritic changes. If you have bunions (hallux vallgus) like me, you probably have less motion and will need to work on maintaining your motion. Often more rigid shoes are suggested to not allow this joint to get to the painful range. Custom orthotics are often indicated and can be made my a physical therapist or podiatrist. Physical therapy can also help mobilize the joint to get more movement and pain relief.
So, assess your joint and see if you need some work. If you have some limitations, hopefully you will soon see some subtle gains in your running mechanics. Enjoy!
*** As always, consult your physician with any medical concerns before beginning a new exercise routine. A full physical therapy evaluation can help you understand your body and assess your mobility and running mechanics.