Annoying smallest toe problem

Discussion in 'Ask the Docs' started by Stig Walsh, Jul 31, 2012.

  1. Stig Walsh

    Stig Walsh Barefooters
    1. United Kingdom

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    Hello there! I apologise if this has been covered elsewhere, but a search of the archive didn't turn up any useful answers.

    Having spent an unhealthy amount of time observing other people's feet whenever I see a bare pair, I've noticed a fair proportion of them have smallest toes that turn in, such that (what should be) the lateral surface of the toe actually contacts the ground. My smallest toes also do this, and I suspect this is a result of years of shoe use. While running, these toes take a pounding, and I often end up loosing the nail even on runs of only a few miles. I have a 10 mile race planned for October and I'd like to improve matters before that.

    My question is, can anything be done about this? I suspect the problem is compounded by the fact that this particular toe seems to have little or no motor innervation to it, though it does have sensitivity. I'm a palaeoneurologist by trade, so I'm aware that existing neural pathways can be developed and re-developed - for instance in cases where patients have lost both arms and the feet have to take over normal manipulative tasks. However, I have no idea how to go about training to make this happen. Since May 2011 I've avoided wearing shoes wherever possible, and where I've had to wear them I've opted for wide fitting Vivobarefoots or Invisible Shoes 4 mm Huaraches - I've also taken time to use my feet to manipulate objects. The other toes have improved greatly, but not the little pinky! Any advice gratefully received.
     

  2. kozz

    kozz Barefooters
    1. Oregon

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    I'm not a doctor, but I've got a few ideas I've been developing.

    You probably know that the human trapezoid bone allows the thumb to rotate out of plane when it plantar-flexes, allowing it to flex toward the little finger. This allows people to direct their grip across the palm, instead of top to bottom. This gives humans the ability to grip and manipulate objects dextrously, which apes can't. Apes can't throw a spear, hit things with a hammer, chop things with an axe, and so forth.

    The 5th digit on the feet seems to be analogous to that. Mine have always worked, and they've always flexed out of plane. I don't know - I don't know if anyone knows - but I suspect it plays a critical role in running gait, because it suffers a lot of wear and tear when I run fast.

    My best guess so far is it's vital for balance, equilibrium, directing force efficiently, that sort of thing. Apes have thumbs on their feet, and are very clumsy runners, they don't even try to run upright. Humans evolved the opposable digits over to the other side. I think at some point in the footstrike or takeoff, the 5th digit flexes out of plane to make fine adjustments to balance and/or grip.

    It makes sense that a semi-opposable digit would give great advantage. Try putting your hand on a flat surface, keeping your thumb in the same plane as your fingers, then push the hand back against the surface and note how much power it seems to have to exert force on the surface. Now flex your thumb a little out of plane, across the palm, so that your hand is arched resting on your thumb and finger tips, and push against the surface again.

    The ability of the thumb to rotate out of plane makes a big difference in the ability to dextrously apply force in exactly the right direction. I think the little toe does the same thing, rotating out of plane at some point to provide balance as the foot either resists or exerts force. If you're not pushing in exactly the right direction, you're wasting energy by giving that force a vector lateral to the desired direction.

    A healthy footstrike results in the foot's position constantly changing relative to the ground and the horizontal plane. This seems to me like it would make it very difficult to avoid pushing sideways at some point, without a method of balancing the foot quickly by reflex. I think the 5th digit does that. I can't prove it, but I've been on the track for a few months and gotten my speed back to a decent level. When all-comers track season ends soon I'm going to work on 200 and 400 sprint speed and see how fast I can get.

    Sprinters and middle-distance runners control their balance and stay in plane by adjusting their hips, legs, shoulders, posture and form. My general hypothesis is that they can't balance with their feet effectively because they've got those rigid spikes and trainers on, and that balancing with the feet should be more efficient. If I can get my 400 speed back to where it was 20 years and 25 pounds ago, I'll have convinced myself, at least.

    As for getting nerves to work again, I don't know anything about that.
     
  3. Dr. Gangemi_SockDoc

    Dr. Gangemi_SockDoc Barefooters

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    It's a good observation and I'd say an accurate one too. My 5th toes do this, but not to the point you describe. They're a non-issue though I wish they were straighter. You might try some Correct Toes:
    https://nwfootankle.com/correct-toes.
     
  4. Stig Walsh

    Stig Walsh Barefooters
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    Hi Kozz - that's an interesting theory, and I have to admit to having asked the same questions about what the function of the outer pedal digits. Since mine are so inert I suppose I've followed the standard shoe-wearing person's logic of 'my feet hurt when I walk or run without shoes, ergo humans have weak, pathetic feet and are obviously poorly designed for locomotion without shoes'. In my case it's more a case of 'my little toes don't do anything and offer no stabilising effect - in fact they get in the way. Ergo, they must be useless and presumably will eventually end up as vestigal appendages'. Man, are we humans great at circular logic! Although I've gone large portions of my life without shoes, I do wonder how much more animated my feet would be had I never worn a pair. Watching the Olympic female gymnasts last night made me envious of their ability just to point their toes. I'd also like to be able to perform backflips on a plank of wood, but hey - one step at a time...

    Thanks SocDoc, that sounds like what I'd suspected. Given more time and focused exercise they will probably improve somewhat, but otherwise they'll just have to adapt to the pounding they're getting. I'd seen those toe spacers somewhere before and wondered at the time whether they might have a positive effect. I might just give them a go.
     

  5. kozz

    kozz Barefooters
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    I've heard that the amount of civilization in your heritage has an effect on how your feet are structured. After thousands of years of wearing shoes, you may be genetically adapted to shoe-wearing.
     
  6. Stig Walsh

    Stig Walsh Barefooters
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    Now that's a depressing thought Kozz! However, I wouldn't have thought that would work over thousands of years unless people who couldn't wear shoes were somehow taken out of the gene pool. Our foot shape must surely be phenotypic, although it would be interesting to see if the same trait were inherited by my children (not that I have any yet). If it were and I'd never let these hypothetical children wear shoes, I'd have conclude that I or my partner (who has 'normal' pinkies) had probably passed on the trait. This is interesting as a discussion, though I suppose we'd better continue it on another forum.

    By the way, I forgot to mention how much I've enjoyed your videos SocDoc. They really have helped me, and I've forwarded links to some of them to non-barefoot friends. Thank you for your help!
     

  7. migangelo

    migangelo Chapter Presidents
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    my little toes have straightened out quite a bit. i'm still waiting for a full on toe spread when standing. i have to consciously do this. like the doc said get some correct toes if you want to speed it up and do more toe/foot exercises. oh, i've been bare 2 years and am either bf or in huaraches. i now wear water shoes to work since my merrell tg's have gotten tight. i may have to give those away here. maybe.
     

  8. Stig Walsh

    Stig Walsh Barefooters
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    That's good to hear migangelo - it sounds like there can be a reasonable amount of improvement given time and the right shoes (when not BF). Actually I think things might be improving now I'm conciously flexing my toes before landing - at least it seems to move them into a slightly better position prior to hitting the pavement.
     

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