SportsInjuryFix.com member Tim Veysey-Smith is a specialist Sports Podiatrist who runs Active Podiatry in Kent. Here he discusses the importance of the toes in stable running
We don’t pay much attention to our toes, unless its playing ‘this little piggy’ games with the kids, or if they make contact with a piece of furniture in the dark! However, our toes play an important role in stabilising our foot against the ground, contributing to a stable base of support for pushing off from the ground when running and walking.
Weakness of the toe flexors can lead to instability and overload in key structures of the foot, contributing to painful foot conditions such as Plantar Fasciitis. This can also lead to an imbalance between the toe flexors and the toe extensor tendons on the top of the foot, with the toe extensors becoming dominant, pulling the toes up into a hammer toe deformity. Instability at foot level means that the muscles above the foot around the knee and hip have to work harder to compensate for the instability. This can increase the risk of overload in those structures and, as these muscle groups are having to work harder, this can have an overall negative effect on running economy.
The muscles of the foot that control the toes can be thought of as the ‘core stability’ muscles of the foot, and some simple home-based exercises can build core strength in the foot and increase stability, reducing the risk of fatigue and overload to the other structures of the foot and lower limb. Try these 3 ‘foot gym’ exercises to give those tiny muscles a good workout.
1) Short foot exercise
With your foot in a neutral position on the floor, push your toes into the ground, slightly raising the arch and ‘shortening’ the foot. As a progression, try to push down just with the big toe, targeting the large abductor muscle which runs along the inside of the arch.
2) Toe crunches
Place your feet on a small towel and attempt to scrunch the towel up under your feet. Do this several times until you get a mild cramping sensation in the bottom of your foot.
3) Isometric toe holds
Bend your toes up slightly against an immovable object such as a wall and push against it for 3-5 seconds, contracting the toe flexors isometrically. Repeat 10-15 times in 3 sets.
Prevention is better than cure and giving attention to these tiny but important muscles in your foot that control the toes as part of your runners workout will increase stability, contribute to improvements in running economy, help you recover from foot pain and decrease your risk of injury in the future.
Seek further advice on improving toe strength and stability via your nearest running specialist therapist at SportsInjuryFix.com