The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

The Surprising Secret to Better Feet: Healthy Big Toes and How to Get Them

Posted by on Thursday, October 25th, 2012

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Our big toes may seem little compared to, say, our heads, but they do a huge amount of work. The big toe bears twice as much pressure when walking as the other toes and the big toe joint takes 40-60% of the your body’s weight when maximum force is applied. Your big toe also can have an impressive range of motion–you can pick things up with your big toe, and gymnasts are able to execute some of their more impressive moves thanks to the way they can grip with the digit (I love referring to toes and fingers as digits, don’t you?).

Now that we’ve established the importance of your big toe, I’m sure you can understand how demoralizing it is when you have an injury that affects it. Some common big toe issues include:

  • Bunions
  • Bursitis
  • Arthritis
  • Gout
  • Sesamoiditis
  • Turf Toe

So what can you do to keep your big toe healthy? Here are some tips:

Choose the Right Shoes So many big toe problems come from shoes that don’t fit or don’t match the shape of your foot. When you try on shoes, you should have about a half inch of space from the tip of your big toe to the top of the shoe (unless your second toe is longer than your big toe; in that case, measure to fit that toe). If it’s more space than that, your toes will have too much room to bang around the toe box of the shoe. If it’s less, your toe will be squashed. Not sure if your shoe fits? Try this video about choosing the right size shoes. You can also prepare yourself for a trip to the shoe store with these instructions for measuring your feet.

Speaking of squashed, there are plenty of shoes out there that are built to squeeze your toes into an unnatural shape. Yes, we’re talking about you, pointy-toed stilettos. Your feet are not shaped like triangles, so trying to force them into triangle-shaped shoes is only going to cause pain and injury. Look for shoes that allow your big toe–all of your toes, really–to lie flat and wiggle around a bit. This will save you so much trouble. I know, you think, “Stilettos make my legs look sexy.” I hope you also think bunions like this one look sexy, then.

See How You Run Have you noticed that there’s a hole where the tip of your big toe meets the top of your running shoes? You may  be curling your toe when you run, which then causes your toe to wear out the fabric of the shoe. This can lead to pain, stiffness, and corns on the top of your toe–not to mention shoes that are worn out much too early. Try to pay attention to how your toe feels next time you run. If you do think you’re curling them, concentrate on relaxing them. If you’re having trouble fixing the problem, see a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) or a running coach for a gait analysis to get some help with your curly toe.

Get Some Exercise Yes, there are exercises that you can do to improve your big toe’s strength and flexibility, especially if you’ve had a toe injury or suffer from toe stiffness or lack of flexibility

  • Put your foot flat on the floor. Flex your big toe as high as you can and hold it there for about ten seconds. Do this three to five times. If you’re having trouble flexing your toe, pull it up with your fingers. After doing the exercise this way for a week or two, see if you can begin to flex it and hold it without the aid of your hand. It may take some time, but you’ll get there.
  • Keep your foot flat on the floor. Curl your big toe under and hold it for about ten seconds. Repeat three to five times. Again, if you’re having trouble getting started, use your hand to help your toe curl.
  • Sit in a chair and put a towel on the floor in front of you, about one to two feet away. Using your big toe, pull the towel towards you, then push it back to where you started, also with your big toe. Repeat three times.
    [Thanks to Livestrong for exercise recommendations.]

There you go, some easy ways to make sure you keep your big toe in top shape. We need our big toes–pay attention to them!

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.