Improve Toe Strength and Mobility
By Sit and Be Fit TV Host
Mary Ann Wilson, RN
The importance of toe power, also known as toe strength and mobility, and the role it plays in our gait is often overlooked. This area of training merits special attention as we work on improving balance and decreasing fall risk. Ever since we mastered the art of walking as toddlers this fundamental motor skill has become an automatic activity. Rarely does any thought go into what should be happening with each step.
Unfortunately, bad habits can develop over time without us even noticing. Unless we are aware of the process, it’s difficult to detect where deficiencies in our gait are occurring. Let’s break each step down into 3 phases and use them to build an awareness of the important role toe power plays in our balance and gait.
Step 1: After initiating the first step, the heel of the forward foot should strike the ground with the toes of the forward foot pulled up toward the body. This “pulled up” toe position is facilitated by good ankle range of motion.
Step 2: Roll through the forward foot from the heel, along the bottom of the sole, toward the big toe.
Step 3: In the meantime, the toes of the back foot should push off the ground. This push off action is what propels you forward.
As you walk, make sure your toes are fully engaged. Here’s a great exercise designed to improve toe strength and mobility.
Toe Power Exercise
- From a seated position, take your shoes off and place your feet flat on the floor.
- Turn the toes under and release quickly. Repeat 6-8 times.
- Quickly lift the toes up, stretch them apart, and release. Repeat 6-8 times.
- One at a time, circle the ankle of each foot in both directions taking the ankle through a complete range of motion.
- Next, grip the toes to the floor and hold for 5 seconds. Breathe throughout the contraction. Release and repeat 4 or more times as tolerated.
- Then, lift the toes up, stretch them apart and hold for 5 seconds. Breathe as you hold. Release and repeat 4 or more times as tolerated.
You can do this exercise one foot at a time or with both feet together. One easy way to add toe exercises into your daily life is to do them while you’re at your desk or watching television. As a reminder, you may want to set a picture of a foot next to your favorite chair. Sometimes we have to be creative to help ourselves develop new habits! Try to spend a small amount of time every day developing your toe power. This little bit of effort will pay off in the long run by improving your balance and helping you feel more steady on your feet.