• Pod Co Podiatry

Foot Thumbs: Why your big toe is so important

When was the last time you thought about your big toe?  Last week?  Last month? Never?? If you answered never then shame on you. Your big toe, a.k.a. the hallux, is one of the most important parts of your foot when it comes to walking and running and it deserves all the love and attention you can give it!

What is the hallux?

The hallux makes up part of what’s known as the 1st ray which includes the two bones of the toe, the first metatarsal (the long bone leading to the toe) and the small rectangular bone at the base of the metatarsal known as the medial cuneiform.

What does it do?

As we walk, the pressure over the big toe increases to the point when, at push off, the weight of our body as well as the forces acting from the ground converge on the relatively tiny big toe joint.

During ‘normal gait’, our body weight is applied to the back outer edge of the heel - known as heel strike - then transferred along the outer edge of the sole till we get to mid-stance, carried across the ball of the foot to the big toe when the propulsive phase takes place and we push off to take the next step.

It is at the propulsive phase that the hallux becomes boss.

The windlass mechanism

There is a structure that extends along the sole of your foot called the plantar aponeurosis or plantar fascia.  Those of you who have suffered with heel pain in the past might have heard about this structure. Further information on that is available here

The plantar aponeurosis starts from the heel bone and attaches to the base of all the toes. It helps to support your arch when standing.  When walking, at the propulsive phase the hallux bends, which pulls the plantar aponeurosis tight, raises the arch of the foot and ‘locks’ the bones of the arch together to form a firm base of support for propulsion. This action is known as the windlass mechanism due to the similarities between it and a cable being wound around a windlass.

What happens when if your big toe doesn’t work?

There are a lot of instances when the hallux either can’t or wont bend during push-off such as when there is arthritis in the joint, bunions are present or if the toe is amputated.  

When this happens, forces need to be transferred elsewhere in the foot in order for us to be able to move forwards. This can lead to a host of other problems but one of the most common is the inability of the arch of the foot to be ‘locked’ and become a rigid lever for propulsion. So if your foot isn’t able to support you, what will?