Armstrong Podiatry & Sports Health's Blog

Information that promotes wellness

“Springing” away from foot health



Not this type of spring!

In this third installment of this continuing blog series about shoegear (read the first and second installments), another unnatural characteristic of shoegear will be examined-the toe spring.  Though not as obvious as the heel lift, the toe spring can lead to joint dislocation and  joint pain, leading to total body compensation.

The toe spring can be defined as the upward slant of the toebox of a shoe.  If you look at any shoe from the side, you will notice that the tip of the shoe does not touch the ground;  it is more pronounced in running shoes.  The necessity of the toe spring is due to the stiffness of the sole of shoegear.  Since the sole is difficult to bend and flex, shoes artificially create a “bend” in the toe area to allow proper motion of the foot throughout a normal walking cycle.  The concept is similar to the  “rocker bottom” shoes which are so popular today, i.e., “Shape Ups” and MBT.

Toes should be down, not up!

The resultant position of the toes by the toe spring negates their natural activity of grasping the surface when weightbearing.  The toes are placed in one position with limited ability and need to provide motion.  And following classic maxim, “If you don’t use it, you use it.”, the joints respond by becoming stiff, leading to the surrounding tendons and ligaments to also become stiff and tight.  This could lead to such things as hammertoes and clawtoes, and most importantly, limited big toe range of motion (hallux limitus).

Hammertoes from years of shoegear usage

Another consequence of the toe spring is the increased pressure on the ball of the foot.  Since the toes are minimally weightbearing, the ball of the foot (capsule) assumes the major weightbearing responsibility, leading to capsulitis.  The previous blog article about the heel lift also talked about this capsular pressure, so it seems like both of these shoegear characteristics direct pressure on this area. A common treatment I have used for pain caused by this capsular pressure involved decreasing the heel height and causing a straightening of toes to increase their weightbearing status.  This is done by insole modification and has been effective in most of my patients in my attempt to make shoegear more “natural”.

Perhaps the most devastating aspect of the toe spring could be the formation of limited big toe range of motion (hallux limitus).  The big toe provides a major force during walking/running and any disruption of its motion will cause compensation throughout the body, i.e., ball of foot calluses, capsular symptoms, increased knee bending, increased hip bending with lower back pain. 

Lack of motion of the big toe affects the entire body!

The destructive nature of the toe spring has multiple consequences which overlaps with the consequences of the heel lift.  In the next installment, the curved last shoe will add the final piece of the nature of shoegear.  Please feel free to contact me if any questions.

Happiness and good health!

February 16, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,


  1. […] blog series talked about some disruptive characteristics of shoegear on the feet, the heel lift and the toe spring.  This installment will focus on the curved last of shoegear.  The shape of the last of the shoe […]

    Pingback by The misshapen shoe « Armstrong Podiatry & Sports Health's Blog | March 27, 2011 | Reply

  2. Those spring shoes are a trip. I personally just use custom Orthotics.

    Comment by Josh | January 8, 2012 | Reply

  3. […] and Performance?Vibram five fingers used in barefoot running wake dusty memories of foot health“Springing” away from foot health .recentcomments a{display:inline !important;padding:0 !important;margin:0 […]

    Pingback by The importance of foot health | July 24, 2012 | Reply

  4. Are there any running shoes that do not have any toe spring? I’ve looked very hard and haven’t found anything. The all-round running shoe I’ve found is the Merrell Road Glove, but the toe spring is giving me ball of foot problems. Other than that, It’s the most sensibly designed shoe I’ve seen. Would a Vivobarefoot shoe such as the Evo II be any better?

    Comment by matt | July 31, 2012 | Reply

    • Thanks for the comment. Yes, it is difficult to find running shoes without a toe spring. Even the most minimalist-type shoe has a toe spring involved. Of course, you can use the Vibram Five Fingers, which has none, or even some Crocs (Islanders), which are more all-terrain in nature. My suggestions is to use the Correct Toes with your shoegear and that will decrease the ball of the foot pressure. Hope that helps!

      Comment by armstrongpodnsportshealth | July 31, 2012 | Reply

  5. Hello, I am doing research to write a blog post (for my own blog) on the athletic power that is generated in the big toe. This is a subject I stumbled on during training. Do you know of any medical journals that discuss this subject?

    I practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Several years ago, I was working diligently on a position called “side control,” in which I would lay over my opponent, perpendicular, and hold him/her down. My professor advised me to begin the power generation for this position in my big toe. A couple of months ago, I read an article in Vanity Fair magazine about a female jockey. She stated that the majority of the power she used to control the horse was generated from her big toe. Yesterday, while training at the track, my coach told me to lead my sprint with my big toe.

    I started thinking, what is with the big toe? Is it the unsung power source of the body? I stumbled on your blog while doing my research. Opinion?

    Dagney Taggert

    Comment by Dagney | October 29, 2012 | Reply

    • Thanks for reading my blog. Yes, without a doubt, the first metatarsalphalangeal joint (the big toe) is a source of great power, especially for power/speed athletes. This joint allows for “toe-off” during running and walking in an efficent manner, if it is functioning properly. There are so many factors that limit its effectiveness, such as flat feet, ankle joint restriction (almost a given for everybody), etc. So to allow it to function, you have to look globally at your feet and see where the primary problem is. There are exercises to help increase ankle joint restriction and flat feet. This will help promote proper functioning of the big toe joint. If you are doing research, check out the windlass mechanism, the sesamoid apparatus, peroneus longus and abductor hallucis, all important in the functioning of the big toe joint.

      Health and happiness

      Comment by armstrongpodnsportshealth | October 29, 2012 | Reply

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