Toe Yoga

Toe Yoga
Posted on 04/20/2021
Toe Yoga

Joseph Ekhoff, LAT, ATC
Athletic Trainer, Mountain Vista High School


Introduction
I am sure most of you have heard of yoga. There are a bunch of fad yoga techniques that are drawing people to this exercise. Let me introduce you to foot and toe yoga (toe yoga). This is a very specialized exercise that is great for lower leg and foot injury prevention and treatment. Let's talk about some specifics of how and when to utilize this exercise for yourself.

Background
I was first introduced to foot and toe yoga about six years ago by a colleague. I was struggling to help one of my athletes who just could not get over her bilateral medial tibial stress syndrome, “shin splints”! She suggested toe yoga, and I had no clue what that was. So here we are. Toe yoga is a great way to activate all of the small accessory muscles of the foot and lower leg. Increasingly, we see more and more dysfunction in the motion and flexibility of the foot and toes. This can be caused by a number of factors, mainly modern shoes restricting the normal movement of the foot and toes.

Foot AnatomyFoot anatomyAnatomy
Toe yoga activates a number of muscles in the foot and lower leg while also having an impact on several other soft tissue structures. The muscles on the plantar surface (underside) include the flexor digitorum longus, flexor digitorum brevis, flexor hallucis longus/brevis, adductor hallucis, abductor digiti minimi, flexor digiti minimi, plantar interossei, plantar lumbricals, and quadratus plantae.

The muscles on the dorsal side (top) of the foot are dorsal interossei, extensor hallucis brevis, and extensor digitorum longus. These muscles make up the intrinsic muscles of the foot. The extrinsic muscles are: flexor hallucis longus, flexor digitorum longus, extensor hallucis longus, and extensor digitorum longus. The posterior tibialis is also pictured.

Foot AnatomyFoot anatomyThe intrinsic foot muscles maintain the medial longitudinal arch and aid in force distribution and postural control during gait. The extrinsic muscles are responsible for movements of the foot such as eversion, inversion, plantar flexion, dorsiflexion, and flexion and extension of the toes. These muscles attach to the tibia or fibula and cross the ankle joint to attach to the foot and toes.

Exercises
There are a number of different exercises that can be performed in toe yoga. I want to provide you with ones that have been researched to be effective in activating, strengthening, reducing injury risk, and restoring normal foot and toe mechanics.
  • For the first exercise, start with your foot flat on the floor and extend your big toe up while also flexing your other toes down. Hold this position for a 3-5 second count.

  • The second exercise is the opposite. With your foot flat on the floor, extend your little toes up and flex your big toe down for a 3-5 second count.

  • For the third exercise, start with your foot flat on the floor. Then, dorsiflex at the ankle while also abducting (splaying) your toes out and extending them.

  • For exercise four, start with your big toe in a flexed position touching the floor, and the little toes extended. The rest of the foot should be off of the ground. Alternate flexing and touching the big to the floor, then extending the big toe and flexing the little toes and touching the floor.

  • Exercise five is an arch lift. For this exercise, start with the foot flat on the floor. Then, raise the arch of your foot off of the floor while keeping your big toe, ball of your foot, and heel on the floor.
Some of these exercises might be surprisingly hard to perform. Take your time and really try to focus on the specific movement of each exercise. I find that it helps to visualize the exercise you are trying to perform while you are doing them. Each exercise can be done with a 3-5 count hold for 10-30 reps and 2-3 sets.

Hopefully, this quick introduction to toe yoga gives you a tool to add to your arsenal. Whether you are looking for a quick, easy preventative exercise or have chronic foot and lower leg pain, these exercises can help. Remember, your feet provide the stable platform for all movements. Take care of them, and they will take care of you.


References:
  1. Gonzalez, J., PHD, Hernandez, A., Hernandez, E., Lucero, D., Berrera, A., Vega, S., & Suarez, S., SPT.(2020). Plantar fasciitis – stepping in the right direction. NSCA Coach, 7(3), 24-38. Retrieved March 30, 2021, from https://www.nsca.com/education/articles/nsca-coach/plantar-fasciitis-stepping-in-the-right-direction/

  2. Gooding, T. M., Feger, M. A., Hart, J. M., & Hertel, J. (2016). Intrinsic foot muscle activation during specific exercises: A t2 time magnetic resonance imaging study. Journal of Athletic Training, 51(8), 644-650. doi:10.4085/1062-6050-51.10.07

  3. Hoopes, D., MD. (2020, October 21). Foot yoga and intrinsic muscle strengthening. Retrieved March 30, 2021, from https://hoopesmd.com/toega-toe-yoga/

  4. Build a hep for free. (2021). Retrieved March 30, 2021, from https://www.hep2go.com/search.php?userRef=kgmbggjejeoi&keywords=arch&searchKind=exs&order=relevant&group=all
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