Becoming a Runner
Toe functionality can be a powerful insight into how the body is stabilizing itself through different tasks such as: walking, long distance running, sprinting, and even weight lifting. Imagine yourself getting up on a nice cool morning and deciding to go for a run. You put on your new sneakers you bought at the local running store. This local store did a fanstatic job identifying your foot structure (supinator, pronator, neutral), gave you the jist of trends in heel-toe drops, and helped pick the right running shoe for you.
You decide training for a half marathon is your goal, and these shoes will help get you there. You dive in with a great running coach maybe even a team of individuals, all willing to help you reach your goals. You start going through training and notice you're getting odd sensations in your feet. Immediately everyone throws out plantar fasciitis. Why not? It's a term everyone knows about. You seek care at some health/rehab/sports clinic. They may do some soft tissue techniques on the bottom of your feet (ART, graston, FAKTR, dry needling (if your brave - it's a very sensative area to needle)) and give you specific/tailored/custom/blah blah exercises involving a lacrosse ball or picking up jaxs. But, in time, it inevitably comes back. Well....what happened? You're sitting there thinking, "I paid for great shoes, I paid for treatment, and it came back... What the hell.. Do I quit? Do I try compressive socks? Do I try new shoes? Can I afford to get treated again? Are these my only options?"
All these options are potentially good, but we need to understand why it came back. The problem I often find in our clinic is the lack of awareness and communication between the brain and the feet. Which brings me to our title: Can you Wiggle your Toes? I'm not talking while sitting in your chair reading this with your foot not in contact with the ground. Instead, I want to know if you can you wiggle your toes while standing.
Proper Foot Position
What is the most functional thing we can do? It's simple; walking. So take your shoes and socks off. Stand up and look at the positioning of your feet and ankles. Can you hold them in a position as shown in the video below? You should feel equal pressure under the ball of your first toe, fifth toe, and heel; this is called the tripod. If this tripod cannot be maintained while standing, then you better believe while you are walking, running or lifting the tripod will be lost.
Now, look at the position of your ankle. If it is not neutral, then fix it. From the position, stand tall, and do not let your ankle give way. Only raise your big toe toward the ceiling. Did you loose ankle positioning? Can you pick up just the big toe? If not, you failed the test. Next up. Can you leave your big toe down, with a neutral ankle, and only raise your outside four toes? Notice your ankle. If it dropped downward or your arch caved inward and downward that is a fail. Try it again. Ignore the weird things that are happening to your fingers.
The video below demonstrates exactly how to perform this exercise and what not to allow during the test/exercise.
Practice Makes Perfect
Failure with this simple test tells me many things clinically. Most importantly, no matter what you buy; orthotics, shoes, socks, and running programs, your success will be limited until you fix the problem. You have to start at the basics, and here is class 101. Do this drill non-stop. Practice, practice, practice. Yes, Allen Iverson, we are talking about practice. If you failed this test, then it means that your brain and your foot muscles have a disconnect. They are not communicating and as a result the muscles are not activating the way they need to when you're walking, running, or lifting. These tasks require more neurological activity to achieve motion compared to simply standing in place. Just like any strong relationship there needs to be a good line of communication. This will get better, however, you have to respect the neutral ankle. If it starts collapsing inward, you are faking the exercise and wasting your time. If you have goals and want to achieve them, it takes work. There is no easy way out of this
P.S. Show this exercise to a friend and watch their fingers move. Fun little demonstration of foot activation being a whole body experience, processed subconsciously via the brain.