Human Biomechanics for Beginners: the Big Toe Joint

This article is part of a series that will describe how various parts of your body move. Knowing these basics will help you become aware of your movements and move better.

The topic today is your big toe joint (hallux), one of five digits at the front of the foot. The big toe is the innermost toe of all tetrapods (animals that have four limbs). It is digit number one. The big toe provides leverage and stability while walking, running, or pedaling. It also works with the little toe to help maintain your balance. The muscles in your big toe support the ligaments and bones that make up your arches. Weak big-toe flexors affect the strength and effectiveness of your gluteus maximus.

Each big toe has two bones and two joints. Each of the other toes has three phalanges and two interphalangeal (IP) joints. The two big toe bones are phalanges (singular: phalanx), one distal (far) and one proximal (near).

The two joints are the metatarsophalangeal joint (MTP), and the interphalangeal joint (IP).
The MTP joint links the big toe to the long bone (metatarsal) in the main part of your foot. It forms the mound at the base of the sole of the big toe.

The MTP joint allows your toes to bend away from your foot, which is important for walking, balance, and gait. It allows flexion, extension, a small amount of abduction and adduction, and rotation. The IP joint is the toe-knuckle joint between the distal and proximal phalanges. The only movement available at this joint is flexion and extension.

Capsules and ligaments cover and cross both joints to provide static stability. Wide toe-boxes, going barefoot, and targeted exercise support dynamic stability.

High pressure and force from poor posture or poor-fitting shoes can move the MTP joint out of alignment. Restoring the big toe alignment and mobility can treat a wide variety of foot problems. For example:

● Encourages natural arch support
● Prevents excessive pronation and ankle sprains
● Improves blood flow to the plantar fascia
● Restores proper sesamoid bone orientation
● Improves balance and reduces the likelihood of falling
● Boosts intrinsic foot muscle strength.
● Reverses and prevents bunions.

There are many movements that can help increase flexion/extension and realign the big toe. I described two in previous articles on 11/8/18 and 5/15/19. Here are two more.

Big Toe Lift
Start standing or seated in a chair with bare feet pointing straight ahead.
Lift your right big toe without taking any of the other toes with it.
Or hold the other toes down with your hand.
Repeat 3, 6, 9 times.
Repeat on the other side.

Big Toe Abductor
Start standing or seated in a chair with bare feet pointing straight ahead.
Use one hand to stabilize the MTP joint.
Use the other hand to pull the big toe away from the other toes.
Repeat 3, 6, 9 times.
Repeat on the other side.

Summing up, the big toe is important for walking, running, balance, and gait. Poor posture and ill-fitting shoes can stifle the strength and mobility of the big toe and throw the MTP joint out of alignment. Simple exercises can help.

[Medical disclaimer: The information presented here is for educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for a doctor’s opinion.]

Via Anderson, E-RYT, is a Yoga and movement coach and teaches the Intelligent Movement Forever system of healthy movement in a weekly online class, in private sessions, and at Yoga Vallarta during the high season. This 77-year-old grandmother practices what she preaches and teaches. She is the author of “How to Move Without Pain: A Compendium of Intelligent Movement”, to be released in 2019.