23 Jul 2020

By Victoria Athey BSc MSc MCSP. Physiotherapist and Sports Massage Therapist at 360Athletic

Big Toe – The Hidden Problem:

A hidden problem that may in fact be contributing to your current foot, ankle, knee, hip (or even higher up your body) injury is in fact the good old big toe! Known in physiotherapy terms as the Hallux, this small, often forgotten body part actually plays an essential role in daily movements and especially in the higher demands of exercising. Any problem here will contribute to bigger issues as you travel higher up the chain – for example consider the foundations of the house the very first layer of bricks if there is an issue here unfortunately however great the rest of the layers are there will always be a weak spot you are trying to cover up. 

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Role of the Hallux – WindLass Mechanism Theory

What on earth is the windlass mechanism I hear you ask? Well this is a pretty cool theory that has been around for 50-60 years based on mechanical thinking. In essence it is to do with the loading and exploding nature of muscles to propel you forwarding in walking, stairs, running, jumping etc. If we simplify the many tasks required of the foot during gait (walking) we focus on the two main things required for successful foot function.

  1. Flexibility: During loading phase of walking (where you are transferring weight onto your foot in contact with the ground) the foot is required to be relatively flexible. Why? Well in order to effectively adapt to the surface and absorb the forces of landing.
  2. Rigidity: During the push off (exploding) phase of walking the foot is required to be relatively rigid. Why? This time in order to ensure effective transfer of force through the appropriate soft tissues and structures and in the direction you wish to move in. This protects and prevents any injuries from incorrect biomechanics of force through sensitive tissues or those not designed to take it – for example Plantar Fasciitis. 

Strengthening Exercises for the Hallux (Big Toe)

Here are some basic exercises you can get started with at home, for further individual assessment and rehabilitation progression book a physiotherapy appointment with me.

  1. Scrunch Up Towel with your big toe
  2. Lift your big toe up whilst keeping other toes still
  3. Weight bearing practice: transferring and pushing load through your big toe during walking, squatting etc.

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