Got big toe pain? Think it’s gout? Think again!   Things are not always what they appear to be. 

This gent came in with first metatarsophalangeal pain which had begun a few months previous. His uric acid levels were borderline high (6) so he was diagnosed with gout.  It should be noted his other inflammatory markers (SED rate and CRP) were low. Medication did not make the symptoms better, rest was the only thing that helped. 

The backstory is a few months ago he was running in the snow and “punched through"the snow, hitting the bottom of his foot on the ground. Pain developed over the next few days and then subsided. The pain would come on whenever he try to run or walk along distances and he noticed a difficult time extending his big toe.

 Examination revealed some redness mild swelling over the 1st metatarsophalangeal joint (see pictures above) and hallux dorsiflexion of 10°.   If we raised the base of the first metatarsal and pushed down on the head of the 1st, he was able to dorsiflex the 1st MTP approximately 50°. He had point tenderness over the medial sesamoid. We shot the x-rays you see above. The films revealed a fracture of the medial sesamoid with some resorption of the bone.

The  sesamoid fracture caused the head of the 1st metatarsal to descend on one side, and remain higher on the other, altering the axis of rotation of the joint and restricting extension. We have talked about the importance of the axis of this joint in may other posts (see here and here).

 He was given exercises to assist in descending the first ray (EHB, toe waving, tripod standing).  He will be reevaluated in a week and if not significantly improved we will consider a wedge under the medial sesamoid. 

A pretty straight forward case of “you need to be looking in the right place to make the diagnosis”. Take the time to examine folks and get a good history.

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

Big Toe Woes: One way to learn to load the head of the 1st metatarsal

On Thursday morning, while sprinting up a hill on the latter part of a run, I had the fortuosity of catching my big toe on what I beleive was an exposed root and fell sudddenly. Instinctively I rolled to protect my back (as you often do if you have had any history of back injuries). After a few expletives and a bruised ego, I took inventory of my body: back was fine, an abrasion and contusion on my left elbow and a really sore big toe. I got up and decided to run home as I was less than a mile from there.

I immediately noticed that my gait would need to be altered if I was going to make it home. I had injured the distal interphalangeal joint and distal phalanyx from the best I could tell; loading them in any way brought excruciating pain, so I was forced into one of my mantra’s: “Keep your toes up”*. I did this for the rest of my run and noticed, probably more than ever, how much this simple technique shifts the weight to the head of the 1st metatarsal and sesamoids. It also made me make my gait more “circular” (rather than pendular, another thing we teach in gait retraining).

I made it home and promptly iced. After getting to the office, an X ray confirmed my suspicion of a fracture in the proximal portion of the distal phalanyx. A day later and from my distal to my 1st metatarsal phalangeal joint is sausage like and a beautiful violet color. I am grateful I did not seem to injure the MTP…Oh well, I will either have to run carefully or switch to mountain biking for the next few weeks. Some ipriflavone (to assist in calcium absorption), cucumin and essentail oils (for inflammation) and I was good to go. Yes it throbs a bit, but it is a reminder that I need to push off through the head of the 1st : )

Try “toes up”with your peeps and let us know how it goes.

TGG

* “Toes up” technique involves conciously firing the anterior compartment muscles, particularly the extensor digitorum longus. It fires more into the extensor pool and assists in firing ALL your extensors through spacial and temporal summation and also heps to shut down flexor tone through reciprocal inhibition. It will also help you to rocker through your stance phase and get more into your hip extensors.

Keeping it Objective.

For clinicians and some die hard foot geeks, we often like to keep things objective. What could be more objective than an angular measurement? A few important measurements when examining or radiographing feet can give us information about clinical decision making (not that we suggest radiographs for mensuration purposes unless you are a surgeon, but when they are already available, why not put them to good use ?). When things fall outside the accepted range, or appear to be heading that way, these numbers can help guide us when to intervene. 

Hallux valgus refers to the big toe headed west (or east, depending on the foot and your GPS). In other words, the proximal and distal phalanyx of the great toe (hallux) have an angle with the 1st metatarsal shaft of typically > 15 degrees. This angle, called the Hallux Valgus Angle (HVA above) is used to judge severity, often for surgical intervention purposes but can guide conservative management as well. 

Metatarsus Primus Varus (literally, varus deformity of the 1st metatarsal) often accompanies Hallux Valgus. It describes medial deviation of the 1st metatarsal shaft, greater than 9 degrees. This angle is called the intermetatarsal angle and is measured by the angle formed by lines drawn parallel along the long axis of the 1st and 2nd metatarsal shafts. 

One other measurement is the Distal Metatarsal Articular Angle, which measures the angle between the metatarsal shaft and the base of the distal articular cap (ie, where the cartilage is) of the 1st metatarsal. This typically should be less than 10 degrees, preferably less than 6 degrees. Remember, these are static angles, things can change with movement, engagement, weight bearing strategies and shoes. What you see statically does not always predict dynamic angles and joint relationship.s

Are you doing surgery? Perhaps, as a last resort. Hallux valgus and metatarsus primus varus can be treated conservatively.

How do you do that?

The answer is both simple and complex.

The simple answer is: anchor the head of the 1st ray and normalize foot function. This could be accomplished by:

  • EHB exercises to descend the head of the 1st metatarsal
  • exercise the peroneus longus, to assist in descending the head of the 1st metatarsal
  • short flexor exercises, such as toe waving, to raise the heads of the lesser metatarsals relative to the 1st
  • work the long extensors, particularly of the lesser metatarsals to create balance between the flexors and extensors
  • consider using a product like “Correct Toes” to normalize the pull of the muscles and physically move the proximal and distal phalanyx of the hallux
  • wear shoes with wide toe boxes, to allow the foot to physically splay
  • consider using an orthotic with a 1st ray cut out, to help descend the head of the 1st metatarsal

This is by no means an exhaustive list and you probably have some ideas of your own. 

The complex answer is that in the above example, we have only included conservative interventions for the foot and have not moved further up the kinetic (or neurological chain). Could improving ankle rocker help create more normal mechanics? Would you accomplish this by working the anterior leg muscles, the hip extensors, or both? Could a weak abdominal external oblique be contributing? How about a faulty activation pattern of the gluteus medius? Could a congenital defect or genetic be playing a role? We have not asked “What caused this to occur in the 1st place?”

Examine your patients and clients. Understand the biomechanics of what is happening. Design a rehab program based on your findings. Try new ideas and therapies. it is only through our failures that we can truly learn.

The Gait Guys

references used:

http://www.bjjprocs.boneandjoint.org.uk/content/90-B/SUPP_II/228.3

http://www.slideshare.net/ANALISIS/hallux-valgus-2008-pp-tshare

http://www.orthobullets.com/foot-and-ankle/7008/hallux-valgus

http://www.slideshare.net/bahetisidharth/hallux-valgus-31768699?related=1

When the big guy heads medially….Game Changer

Lately we have been seeing a lot of bunions (hallux valgus). While doing some research on intermetatarsal angles (that’s for another post) we came across the nifty diagram you see above. 

Regardless of the cause, as the 1st metatarsal moves medially, there are biomechanical consequences. Lets look at each in turn. 

  • the EHB (extensor hallucis brevis) axis shifts medially. this muscle, normally an extensor of the proximal phalanyx, now becomes more of an abductor of the hallux. It’s secondary action of assisting the descent of the head of the 1st metatarsal no longer happens and it actually moves the base of the proximal phalanyx posteriorly, altering the axis of centration of the joint, contributing to a lack of dorsiflexion of the joint and a hallux limitus
  • Abductor hallucis becomes more of a flexor, as it moves to the plantar surface of the foot. Remember, a large percentage of people already have this muscle inserting more on the plantar surface of the foot (along with the medial aspect of the flexor hallucis brevis), so in these folks, it moves even more laterally, distorting the proximal phalanx along its long axis (ie medially) see this post here for more info
  • Flexor hallucis brevis moves more laterally. Remember this muscle houses the sesamoid bones before inserting onto the base of the proximal phalannx; the medial blending with the abductor hallucis and the lateral with the adductor hallucis. Because the sesamoid bones have moved laterally, they no longer afford this muscle the mechanical advantage they did previously and the axis of motion of the 1st metatarsal phalangeal joint moves dorsally and posterior, contributing to limited dorsiflexion of that joint and a resultant hallux limitis. The lateral movement of the sesamoids also tips the long axis of the 1st metatarsal and proximal phalanyx into eversion. In addition, the metatarsal head is exposed and is subject to the ground reactive forces normally tranmittted through the sesamoids; often leading to metatarsalgia. 
  • Adductor hallucis: this muscle now has a greater mechanical advantage  and because the head of the 1st ray is not anchored, acts to abduct the hallux to a greater degree. The now everted position of the hallux contributes to this as well

As you can see, there is more to the whole than the sum of the parts. Bunions have many biomechanical consequences, and these are only a small part of the big picture. Take you time, learn your anatomy and examine everything that has a foot!

See you in the shoe isle…

Ivo and Shawn

pictures from: http://www.orthobullets.com/foot-and-ankle/7008/hallux-valgus and http://www.stepbystepfootcare.com/faqs/nakedfeet/

When the big guy heads medially….Game Changer

Lately we have been seeing a lot of bunions (hallux valgus). While doing some research on intermetatarsal angles (that’s for another post) we came across the nifty diagram you see above. 

Regardless of the cause, as the 1st metatarsal moves medially, there are biomechanical consequences. Lets look at each in turn. 

  • the EHB (extensor hallucis brevis) axis shifts medially. this muscle, normally an extensor of the proximal phalanyx, now becomes more of an abductor of the hallux. It’s secondary action of assisting the descent of the head of the 1st metatarsal no longer happens and it actually moves the base of the proximal phalanyx posteriorly, altering the axis of centration of the joint, contributing to a lack of dorsiflexion of the joint and a hallux limitus
  • Abductor hallucis becomes more of a flexor, as it moves to the plantar surface of the foot. Remember, a large percentage of people already have this muscle inserting more on the plantar surface of the foot (along with the medial aspect of the flexor hallucis brevis), so in these folks, it moves even more laterally, distorting the proximal phalanx along its long axis (ie medially) see this post here for more info
  • Flexor hallucis brevis moves more laterally. Remember this muscle houses the sesamoid bones before inserting onto the base of the proximal phalannx; the medial blending with the abductor hallucis and the lateral with the adductor hallucis. Because the sesamoid bones have moved laterally, they no longer afford this muscle the mechanical advantage they did previously and the axis of motion of the 1st metatarsal phalangeal joint moves dorsally and posterior, contributing to limited dorsiflexion of that joint and a resultant hallux limitis. The lateral movement of the sesamoids also tips the long axis of the 1st metatarsal and proximal phalanyx into eversion. In addition, the metatarsal head is exposed and is subject to the ground reactive forces normally tranmittted through the sesamoids; often leading to metatarsalgia. 
  • Adductor hallucis: this muscle now has a greater mechanical advantage  and because the head of the 1st ray is not anchored, acts to abduct the hallux to a greater degree. The now everted position of the hallux contributes to this as well

As you can see, there is more to the whole than the sum of the parts. Bunions have many biomechanical consequences, and these are only a small part of the big picture. Take you time, learn your anatomy and examine everything that has a foot!

See you in the shoe isle…

Ivo and Shawn

pictures from: http://www.orthobullets.com/foot-and-ankle/7008/hallux-valgus and http://www.stepbystepfootcare.com/faqs/nakedfeet/

Welcome to rewind Friday, Folks. We always seem to be talking about bunions, and receive quite a few questions on them. This brief video discusses where they come from.

Enjoy!