5 Tips For Improving Great Toe Mobility and Stability

The foot on the right is far from ideal, but its great toe position is better
In my previous post I discussed the importance of the "big", "1st", "great" toe, or hallux. I finished that post with a promise to share some ideas and methods for enhancing the health of your foot/toes and here I am to make due on that.

In reality, some people may already be too far gone to see much benefit from conservative methods of treatment. Unfortunately, with enough abuse from faulty footwear, poor biomechanics, and overuse some feet may require surgery. That doesn't mean that you may not find a decrease in symptoms or pain from conservative methods and all avenues to avoid surgical procedures should be explored in my opinion.

Instead of giving tons of in-depth and intricate details on things that you can do for better foot/toe mobility and motor control I am going to give some simple and easy ideas and concepts that can have a huge impact.

1) Avoid Shoes With a Tapered or Narrow Toe Box

The toes should be the widest part of the foot. This is often a rarity for people of developed nations and many think it is normal. However, if you look at a young child or toddler's foot it is likely that their foot still holds this true form. If you look at most footwear you will find that the toe boxes are often very constraining and the widest part of the shoe is usually not at the toes. They often come to a very distinct point about where the second toe is. One thing that I recommend when picking out a pair of shoes is to perform the "shoe liner" test. This is where you remove the liner or insole of the shoe and place your foot on top of it. If your toes splay over the edges then it is likely that the shoe is too narrow for your foot. This is very important for the developing feet of children and I think this video by Dr. Ray McClanahan does a great job of explaining this.

2) Avoid Shoes With a Toe Spring Design

If you view a shoe from a side profile you will notice that many conventional shoes will have a design where the sole will curve upward near the toes. This places the toes into an extended position relative to the metatarsals when at rest. I believe this was originally designed to help the shoe have a "rocker" effect to help people with poor ankle mobility.

3) Avoid Shoes With an Excessively Elevated Heel, "Ramp", or Heel-Toe Drop Design.

I attribute this shoe design and our cultures disdain for squatting (excessive sitting in chairs) to be major contributors to the poor ankle mobility that plagues many people and athletes alike. These three design flaws are discussed indepthly by Dr. Ray once again and he does a great job discussing them in this other video of his. You can do all the joint mobilizations, stretching, and flexibility work in the world but if you keep yourself or your patients in crappy shoes then you are fighting a losing battle.

4) Ensure Adequate Ankle Dorsiflexion
One thing that I have noticed in many patients with issues in the toes is that they are often accompanied by issues at the ankle, especially regarding decreased ankle dorsiflexion. Chicken or the egg here? I'm not sure but if a person lacks the ability to achieve full ankle dorsiflexion then their toes may be at risk for taking an extra beating. What about if you lack toe mobility as well? Good Luck. Here is a video I made for a quick and easy way to check and see if you have enough ankle dorsiflexion. 

5) Increase foot intrinsic muscle strength/motor control
It isn't advisable to dive in headfirst and make drastic changes to your footwear in one fell swoop and expect all to be well. Even if you aren't going to change your footwear choices it is still probably advisable to work on intrinsic muscle strength/control. Here is another video I made previously showing some easy ways to improve foot/toe strength and mobility.

If you are still struggling with issues in your feet, ankles, or further up the kinetic chain and these simple tips aren't enough to resolve them then you may possibly need additional manual therapy from an athletic trainer, physical therapist, physiotherapist, podiatrist or chiropractor. There is also the possibility that a conventional approach may not be enough for some issues.

Some issues may require more time or help from products like Correct Toes. An foot-toe orthosis like them requires a post all to themselves but I personally have used it on myself, my patients and in research with some surprising success and outcomes. One thing that I will say is that I like how that product versus the cheaper generic types that you can find at say Walgreens or CVS will actually fit in your shoes, has multiple sizes, and can be modified for your foot shape.

Contributed by Adam Kelly, MS, ATC


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