I received an email today with a question about how important the big toe is during running gait.
The short answer: Massively important!
The slightly longer answer however is nicely presented in the video above from Physical Therapist Steven Gonser.
Essentially, both running and walking gait required a certain amount of big toe extension to get through late-stance phase of gait without compensation.
When the available range of motion at the ball of the foot (first metatarsophalangeal joint) is limited, either due to joint pathology, tight plantar fascia, or another of various possible reasons, we lose the capacity to push-off using the first two toes of the foot.
Without this ability to load properly through the first and second toes, we lose the capacity to use the all-important windlass mechanism of the foot.
It’s the strong push-off through the first two toes we want to see during walking and running gait. But what we often see when big toe extension is lacking is a tendency to compensate by altering the movement pattern and rolling off the outside of the foot, as just one example.
But the biomechanical compensations don’t end there…
When big toe extension is lacking during late-stance phase of running and walking gait, the quality of the triple extension we want to see decreases. When the foot and ankle ceases to act as an effective rocker mechanism, the knee and hip both usually sacrifice extension at terminal stance in running and walking gait.
You can test your big toe extension using the video I posted previously here: Running Foot Health: Self Assessment.