Accelerate Physical Therapy

The Importance of Big Toe Mobility and How to Increase It

When it comes to our toes, they are often neglected compared to other body parts. However, the big toe in particular, otherwise known as the great toe, plays a more significant role in our daily lives than you might think.

All of our toes are far more useful than applying polish and gripping flip flops. In fact, the big toe is vital in contributing to proper arching of the foot, as well as propulsion (forcing forward movement) and shock absorption. With a standard stride, our toes extend upward when we land to help the foot arch at a higher level, working as a shock absorber. The arch will then flatten as the toes lower naturally within the stride. And, this is true for both walking and running. Of course, only if you have decent mobility in your big toe.

If you lose mobility in a big toe, you will also lose the ability to have a functional and stable gait. Just to give you an idea, wrap your toes up…then try to walk normally. Mobility could be lost due to an injury, such as a broken toe, an infection, or arthritis. If the injury is severe, it could lead to weeks of physical therapy to gain back the necessary mobility.

With the big toe playing such a significant role, you might find that your physical therapist asks you to do some toe stretches if you have gone through any type of injury or surgery effecting the foot, ankle or big toe, such as for bunions. Fortunately, the stretches can be done just about anywhere.

So, let’s take a look at some toe stretching examples…

3 Types of Toe Stretches to Consider

There are many stretches you can do for your toes, some are more complex and will also help with other body parts, such as ankle and leg. Here are just 3 varieties…

1. Manual Manipulation – Let’s first take a look at manual manipulation, a term often used in massage therapy. This stretch is also known as a toe pullback stretch and is simple to do.

• Sit down in a chair or the floor, as long as you are comfortable. Cross one ankle over the opposite knee.
• Place your fingers over the big toe, so that your fingertips will rest near or on the large joint at the base (bottom of the foot) where your toe connects to the rest of the foot.
• Press your thumb right into the top joint, and then slowly bend the toe backward as far back as your comfort will allow.
• Hold for approximately 10 seconds, and then release. Repeat this stretch 3-5 times, and then repeat all steps with the opposite foot.

2. Toe Curls – Adding some toe curls is another simple stretch that is good for the toes.

• Sit in a comfortable chair, placing your feet flat on the floor, with knees at a 90° angle, and back straight for comfort and support.
• Slowly curl the toes of both feet under, as much as possible. This will cause the ball of each foot to slightly lift from the floor.
• Hold this position for 3-5 seconds, and then slowly release the curl back to the flat position.
• Repeat this 10 times.

3. Toe to Wall Stretches – This stretch is a bit more complex. For example, it will also stretch the calves.

• Standing, flex your toes (of one foot) upward and place them against the wall, keeping the rest of that same foot on the floor.
• Lean the upper part of your body towards the wall, while gently raising your heel off from the floor. If you are doing this right, it will feel as though your toes are pushing into the wall and you will feel a pull and slight discomfort.
• Hold this position for 3-5 seconds, and then slowly go back to the starting position.
• Repeat these steps about 10 times with one foot, and then switch to repeat them with your other foot.

These are just a few examples of toe stretches. They are easy and quick enough to do daily, no matter where you are for that day. If you have a few minutes on your lunch break, it’s easy to work it in!