Toes and balance

Oooh, toes!

As children, we pay quite close attention to our toes. Whether its from singing “This little piggy went to market…” or literally being able to put our foot in our mouth – when we are young, they are fun!

Yet as adults, we tend to simply put socks over them, perhaps only focusing on them when we have to cut our toenails.

So, what do we know about our toes; what do they actually do? And how can we help keep them healthy?

What are the toes?

Each toe consists of three bones (the proximal, middle and distal phalanx), with the exception of the big toe (which doesn’t have the middle bone). In some people, the little toe is also missing this bone. These 14 bones are some of the smallest in the human body, but their significance isn’t related to their size!

What do they do?

Our toes play an important role in our balance and movement. Approximately 75% of our bodyweight is supported by them and the balls of the feet when walking. Generally speaking, we need our toes to be able to spread wide, to provide a good, stable foundation for the rest of our body! You can try balancing on one leg with your toes tense, then try again with them spread out; which one feels easier? As well as balance, our toes provide a final bit of power as the foot lifts off the ground during movement. This can assist with increasing stride length and speed while running for instance.

The toes help to send information about any shifts in our bodyweight to our brain. The brain can then use this to adjust the rest of the body and enable it to move. This is vital whether that’s by walking slowly in a straight line, or quickly picking up the other foot to prevent a fall when you trip.

What happens if I hurt my toes?

If they are stiff or are injured, you may find that your gait will be affected. This can happen even with simple things like going from seated to standing, as the toes are used to “push” against the floor for example. Due to this, imbalances can start to occur up the leg in other muscles and joints. This in turn may lead to problems such as knee, hip or lower back pain, as well as tendinitis.

Wearing shoes that are the incorrect size, and socks that are too tight, often causes the toes to become cramped. As a result, this can lead to painful bunions (not to mention putting you more at risk of fungal infections such as athlete’s foot). Wearing full-toed socks (finger socks) can help allow the toes to move more freely and enable your feet to align correctly. Each one can then function independently, encouraging more flexibility, strength and good balance!

Can I afford to lose one?

So, can you still walk and run with less than 10 toes? The answer is yes! It is still possible to walk without any of them, but your gait will need to compensate. There are prosthetics and shoe inserts available that may be of benefit too, depending on which one or how many you have missing.

How do I treat toe pain?

If you have a condition such as gout or arthritis, anti-inflammatories or pain relief may be advised.

Mechanical problems with the foot are a common cause of toe pain. If the joints aren’t moving correctly, they can cause pain and tension in the muscles, tendons and ligaments surrounding the foot. During a new patient assessment, your chiropractor or osteopath can look at your feet and gait to determine problem areas that may be causing, or be caused by, toe pain. Problems with the toes can create problems into the ankle, knee, hip, pelvis and lower back. It’s so important to keep each of those joints moving well- Manual adjustments can be made even to the pinky toe!

So, like Rachel in Friends, remember that your toes deserve attention and show them some TLC!

Ready to book your appointment with our award-winning chiropractor?

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