One of my clients in her 20s complained about cramping and pain around her right big toe. I asked her a few questions and found out she just started working (1 month ago) at her first professional job wearing high heels every day. I told her right away that high heels cause foot pain and are detrimental to her health! The toes are one of many amazing features of the body that are sadly overlooked, misused and abused. Most of the problem occurs from wearing improper shoes (high heels, too small, excessively cushioned, too narrow, blister prone) and not stretching and strengthening the toes. Over the past few decades it has been the goal of manufacturing companies to make shoes for fashion and/or for comfort, focusing on aesthetics for the former and support for the latter. Well, unfortunately neither of these shoe forms provides a solid foundation for the feet and toes. Why? In regards to high heels, your feet are in a more plantarflexed position, putting an extreme amount of pressure on your toe joints and most specifically on your big toe joint. This can create hammer toe, bunions, and osteoarthritis in your toe(s). Pain and injury can even run up to knee, hip and back muscles and joints.
Comfort shoes, on the other hand, cause a different kind of problem. Comfort shoes conform around your arch providing extra support at a serious cost. The added support actually weakens the feet (consequently the toes) inhibiting them to do the job they were born to do! You have all these wonderful muscles and bones in your body to perform a certain function and shoes are taking these powers away from them.
Back to my client, I told her that she was overworking her flexor hallucis brevis, the muscle that flexes the big toe. It is a muscle that runs underneath the middle of your foot to the start of your big toe. When you are wearing heels, your feet are continuously plantarflexed, causing the FHB to be constantly contracted. Constantly contracting your FHB can lead to cramping, which is a misfiring of the muscle neuron complex, making muscles contract even more. In other words, she was cramping because she was overtaxing her flexor hallucis brevis. In addition, the pain she was feeling on her right big toe was the sheer force of each footstep on the toes and the pressure the shoe placed directly on the big toe joint.
By happy chance, Yoga Tune Up® has a colorful array of exercises for toe pain for your FHB that will tickle your fancy on the 10 Minute Quickfix for Feet and Ankles. Come on! When was the last time you played with your toes?