I recently was asked by friend of Boddicker Performance, Jim Hansen, if barefoot running can be beneficial in those with limited dorsiflexion of the hallux. While I do not necessarily believe that a person with poor hallux extension should be running barefoot straight out the gait, I do strongly believe that the same people can benefit a great deal from some unshod exercise.
The biggest question to ask is “why do I lack mobility?” There are a ton of reasons, some of which are probably unable to be resolved on your own, that a big toe loses its freedom into extension. Is it a collapsed arch? What caused the collapsed arch? Poor observance of the joint by joint theory? What else can we look at to make things happen?
Doing some moving unshod can help to develop the right positions of the joint by joint that can improve mobility of the hallux. If we take the wedge out from under the heels, we immediately remove at least part of a whole body anterior weight shift, reducing some neurological tone related to the ankling strategy of postural control and probably gaining some mobility. In the same vein, we’ll have a good chance at restoring some of the strength of the intrinsic musculature of the foot and possibly rebuilding the arch and realigning the first ray somewhat. We know, too, that barefoot foot striking results in better distributed plantar pressures and comparably greater movement over the hallux, though, hammering a joint without range over and over again with big loads may not be the best idea.
From a “bottom-up” though process, we definitely need to clear the mobility of the hallux and the ankle, but we cannot ignore the “top-down” process as well. Athletes may do all the work in the world at peripheral segments, but if the hips are not normalized it will be impossible to obtain the appropriate foot positions. If the anti-pronation musculature is weak and inhibited as per Janda’s crossed syndromes, for example, the strength of the feet may not matter. It is here that it always comes back to what you see in assessment. How was the Ober’s test? Where did the greater trochanter migrate in the straight leg raise? Are hip flexion patterns acceptable? Hip abduction? Ankle mobility? Cervical patterns?
I also think that here is where the beauty of the Anatomy Links System shines through. Identify key areas and then branch out to all areas that impact that area with exponential growth until you hit dead-ends.