TIGHT TOES! Take a little walk—long enough to get your stride and pace going and notice if you feel your ankle roll out to the side just a little bit as you push off. You may even feel a twinge of pain in your ankle or knee. Another option is to get someone to video you (maybe even in slow motion) and see if you can watch yourself doing it. It will look like a little ankle whip around as you propel forward as in the picture below.
How would the toes get tight?
The top two reasons from my experience with clients are shoe selection and not breathing fully. Any shoe that encourages a toe scrunch would create a situation where your body would start tighten when walking instead of being wide and open (I refer to this preferred state as ‘Frodo Feet’). This isn’t just the easy scapegoat of high heels and pointy shoes, flip flops or any shoe that is so loose that your toes have to work to keep them on would create tight toes. Wearing shoes that are too small or lacing shoes too tightly would cause similar footing.
Next, hold your breath and feel how your feet tighten up a bit (all your muscles, really). We all have a tendency to shallow breathe when we feel stressed, so being under prolonged stress or if you’re in a job/school environment where you heavily focus day-to-day, usually means that you’re holding your breath. I often see that if someone grew up in an environment where they were often afraid or anxious (this could also translate into present-tense adulthood) the toes also scrunch as a response to that fear factor. I call it the Bird-on-a-Wire grip whereas that Frodo Foot is grounded and open…calm.
How should I walk?
This goes with a bit of an * in that we’re all shaped differently and have varied movement/injury backgrounds so there isn’t one for sure right way. That said, the first two toes (big toe and second toe) should more or less line up with your shin bone and thigh bone. This may be difficult if you have flat arches or have had other lower leg injuries. These bones are considered your weight-bearing bones so your body weight is centered over the mid-line of your body. Your weight centered here would naturally allow your core and posture muscles to support you as you walk or run. Lack of weight-centering can cause weight to shift to the outer or lateral lines of the body in walking, which could be a factor in a tight IT band, lower back pain, knee pain and ankle issues.
As you take a step forward, the foot should roll through the mid arch to push off with the ball of foot and then the toes. If you have a tight first or second toe and/or a bunion, you are likely not pushing off of that foot correctly and you may be rolling to the outside of the foot as shown in the picture above.
An exercise to stretch your toes and allow for proper toe push off.
This simple stretch can be done with a rolled up towel or a tennis/lacrosse ball against a wall. In the video, my model is demonstrating it with one of my favorite foot stretching and release tools, the Yamuna Foot Savers. Here’s another way they can be used to release foot tension and help with plantar fasciitis. You can easily purchase them online through Amazon and they last forever. Take them with you when you travel because they take up virtually space and really help loosen the feet after sitting in a car or being in a plane for long periods of time. If you do have a bunion and this stretch feels uncomfortable, you can stretch your big toe off to the side and focus on your second toe. No need to do more than about 10ish repetitions on any given toe and only about once per day at most.
Happy, grounded feet=better balance and core stability!