What Are Your Toes Good For?

Let’s be honest most of us are not proud of our toes. It’s easy to forget about them, but stub your toe and you will certainly pay attention!

Popularity aside, our toes do two very important things for us. Firstly, the toes, especially the big toe, help us balance. To test this, try standing on one foot with none of your toes touching the ground. The second thing toes do for us is to help propel us forward while we are walking or running. The toes give that last little push off. In animals that climb trees, the toes are very important for grabbing and for hanging on. A random fact: the 14 bones of the toes are among the smallest in the human body.

Compared with fingers, which allow us to manipulate tools, toes are usually thought of as inessential digits, good for traction and balance and not much else. Conversely, They are the gears in the engine of the human body, letting us walk and run with exquisite efficiency. In 1990, researchers recruited 160 subjects of all ages and measured the pressures and forces exerted on areas of their feet while walking. They found that our toes contact the ground for about three-quarters of the walking cycle, and exert pressures similar to those of the metatarsal heads – bones roughly located at the base of the toes just ahead of the arch that are integral to human movement.

Researchers urged that since your toes play an important part in increasing the weight-bearing area during walking, every effort should be made to protect and take good care of them.

Over time, the line of leverage of the human foot has transitioned from down the middle to between the big and second toes. Thus, the big toe has gotten bigger, while the pinky toe has gotten smaller. Today, our pinky toe is not more than a tiny nub. Who knows, over the next 500,000 years, it may gradually disappear.

Toes play an even more critical role during running. According to Brown University biologist David Carrier, toes basically allow humans to reach a “higher gear.” Using the full length of your foot while running, including your toes, effectively grants a longer lever arm, er, foot. This means your calf muscle can contract more slowly and still allow you to run faster.

Furthermore, University of Calgary anthropologist Campbell Rolian contends that humans’ shortened, stubby toes can be explained by our long history as endurance runners. He insists that our comparatively “buff” toes help push us while running. If they were any longer, they would be much more inefficient and susceptible to injury.

Name those toes

  • The first toe, also known as the hallux (“big toe” or “great toe”), the innermost toe, the “thumb toe.”
  • The second toe, “long toe” or “pointer toe”, “index toe”
  • The third toe, or “middle toe” or “long toe”
  • The fourth toe, or “ring toe”
  • The fifth toe, “baby toe”, “little toe”, “pinky toe”, “small toe”, “wee toe” or “tiny toe”, the outermost toe