The Great toe’s effect on external hip rotation.

We have a simple video for you today. 

When we assess our clients for gait and locomotion we do a quick screen of all the big player joints, from the toes at least up into the thoracic spine to start. Loss of mobility/range of motion means probable functional impairment. 

In this video we display the effects of the Windlass Mechanism of the great toe. A windlass mechanism according to Wikipedia is:

a type of winch used especially on ships to hoist anchors and haul on mooring lines and, especially formerly, to lower buckets into and hoist them up from wells.

In this case, dorsiflexing the big toe spools the plantarfascia and flexor hallucis longus and brevis around the metatarsophalangeal joint (1st. MTPJ), thus pulling the heel towards the forefoot thus raising the arch. When the arch raises, the talus moves cephalad (upwards) and because of the supinatory movement orientation, it spins the tibial externally which in turn spins the femur externally. This is what you see in this video, note the blue dots being carried laterally with the limb external rotation.

The point here today, if you have loss of external hip rotation, it could be crying for you to evaluate the range of motion of the 1st MTP joint , it could be crying for you to evaluate the skill of toe extension, strength or endurance or all of the above. Impairment of the 1st MTP has great inroads into ineffective locomotion. You must have decent range of motion to effectively supinate, to effectively toe off, to externally rotate the limb, to effectively acquire hip extension to maximize gluteal use.  Thus, one could easily say that impaired hallux/great toe extension (skill, ability, endurance, strength) can impair hip extension (and clean hip extension patterning) and result in possible terminal propulsive gait extension occurring through the lumbar spine instead of through the hip joint proper.

Think of the effects of two asymmetrical great toe extensions, comparing the great toe left to right. Asymmetry in the limbs, pelvis, hip extension and perhaps worse, the lumbar spine, is a virtual guarantee.  Compare hallux extension side to side, if you can achieve symmetry through skill, endurance and strength retraining, you must do it. If you have a hallux limitus, a bunion or anything that impairs the symmetry of great toe extension side to side, you have some interesting work to do. 

You have to know what you have in your client, and know what it means to their locomotion.  Seeing or recognizing what you have must translate into understanding and action. 

Play mental games with clinical entities.  In this case, if at terminal toe off you did not have full hallux extension like in this client, and thus you did not get that last little final external rotation spin in the limb at the hip … . . what could that do to your gait ? Go tape your toe and limit terminal extension (terminal dorsiflexion) and walk around, to feel it in yourself is to get first hand experience. 

Shawn Allen, one of the gait guys

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