Can You Run without a Big Toe? Our Answer…

A friend of mine recently had to have their big toe amputated because of an injury. As an avid runner, they were very concerned about how this big change would affect their lifestyle – running wise, that is. 

The big toe, called a hallux, isn’t necessarily something we need for walking or running… is it? I guess I never thought so. Legs, knees, and feet are the first things to come to my mind. But, turns out, your halluces (plural for hallux) play an essential role in static and dynamic balance

So can you run without your big toe knowing how vital a body part it is? And is there anything you need to do to help you compensate for not having a big toe?

Can You Run Without a Big Toe? 

Yes, you can run without a big toe; however, your balance, arch stabilization, shock absorption, and power will be compromised. Without a big toe, the way in which you walk, jump, and run will certainly change… but there are ways you can improve your balance, adapt to an 8- or 9-toed gait, and strengthen the other muscles in your foot to walk and run as best you can. 

When my friend first started walking (because you gotta walk before you run, right?) after his big toe amputation, we realized how much work a big toe actually does

In general, your big toe: 

  • Carries 40-60% of your body weight during forward momentum, but this increases 2-3 times when you run
  • Does most of the work in comparison to your other toes (by about twice as much). 
  • Is the lever that helps you push yourself off the ground when walking or running. 
  • Controls foot pronation (aka the internal roll of your foot as you walk or run).  
  • Helps stabilize your arch during mid-stance and the take-off phase (by 80-85%), which helps with balance, shock absorption capability, and propulsive force

At this point, you may be doubting my “yes” answer to can you run without a big toe. I promise you can… it just takes work and making some adjustments.

Honestly, while you can run with no big toe (and I’ve seen my big-toe-less friend run and compete in events like the Boston Marathon), your gait is affected. While your running motion will look choppier, a 9-toed gait is and can be just as effective as a 10-toed gait, even though it is a shorter gait and may be slower (especially at the start).  

4 Factors to Help You Run Without a Big Toe  

If you’ve lost your big toe, your heart should be elated to hear you can still walk and run

However, there are a few things you need to do to compensate for having fewer toes, from altering your running style to practicing balance. 

Here’s what you can do to help you run successfully without a big toe:  

1. Buy Custom Shoes 

Getting customized running shoes for a 9- or 8-toed gait will help you improve your manner of walking and running.   

2. Get a Toe Filler 

Instead of buying customized shoes, you can also get a hallux amputation toe filler to help you normalize your walking and running gait and improve your ambulation and standing balance. The filler also prevents your foot’s skin from rubbing against the inside of your shoe as you move. The rubbing can be painful and result in inflammation, wounds, and infections  

Hallux toe filler is a partial foot prosthesis that fits into your shoe. The purpose is to fill the space of the big toe that isn’t there anymore and ensure the toe box of the shoe doesn’t collapse.  

3. Do Balance Exercises 

While a big toe is an important aspect of how balanced you are while standing and moving, there are also lots of other muscles in your body that keeps you balanced and upright. So if you don’t have a big toe, you need to focus on working out these other muscles so they can help compensate for the lack of a big toe. 

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You need to focus on doing balance exercises if you don’t have a big toe.

To help you reduce your risk of being unbalanced and falling over, you can do these kinds of exercises to improve your balance (once your foot has healed and you’ve gotten the all clear from your doc!): 

  • Clamshells where you lay on your side with your knees bent at a 45° angle. Place a resistance band around your thighs. Raise your top knee upward while keeping your ankles together. Lower the knee, and repeat. Then lie on your other side and do the clamshells on that side.    
  • Tightrope walk where you place a piece of string or soft rope on the ground and then walk on the rope by keeping your balance and not stepping on the floor.  
  • Squats where you stand with your feet shoulder or hip width apart, and lower yourself (while keeping your back straight) into an invisible chair. From the lowered position, raise yourself up, and repeat.  
  • Flamingo stand where you stand upright with your hands on your hips. Then lift one leg, keeping your knee bent all the way up to your belly. Do 15 reps, and then do the flamingo stand on the other side. You can hold onto a wall or chair for support. 
  • Triplanar toe taps where you place a resistance band just above your ankles or even around your lower thighs. Engage your core and get into a quarter squat. From there, stand on one leg while you tap the other leg forward, straight behind you, and to the side. Do 10-20 reps, and then switch to your other leg. You may also need to hold onto a chair when you first start doing these, or practice without the resistance band first.    

4. Strengthening the Other Muscles in Your Foot 

While your big toe did all the work, the other muscles in your foot aren’t useless. Now that you don’t have a big toe, you simply need to strengthen these other muscles in your foot, so they can help you balance, push you off the ground, and more when you walk or run

You can start with these exercises:  

  • Pick up marbles with your toes and drop them one by one into a paper cup while standing on one leg. 
  • Heel toe raises by standing with both feet on the floor. Push down on your heels so your toes are raised off the ground, relax, and then push down on your toes while raising your heels. Hold onto a kitchen counter or the back of a heavy chair for balance until you feel more confident and balanced to do these by yourself with no help.
  • Massage the arch of your foot by placing a ball underneath. Move your arch over the ball forward and backward and even in a circle. Do this while sitting or standing.  
  • Toe curls where you sit on a chair and place a towel under the one foot. Let your heel sit at the one end of the towel, and then scrunch your toes, pulling the towel toward you. Do 5-10 reps, and then switch to the other foot. 
  • Walk on sand because walking on a soft surface like sand is more taxing on your feet and calves, so what better way to strengthen these muscles? Get to a nearby beach, big sandpit, or volleyball court. Walk for as long as you can barefoot on the sand. 

Final Thoughts on “Can You Run Without a Big Toe?” 

So yes, you can absolutely run without a big toe. Will it be easy? Not at first. But most things worth going after aren’t simple to achieve.  

You may probably struggle at first because your big toe is essentially an important part of how your body moves. With the right exercises to strengthen the other muscles in your foot, calves, and knees – as well as exercises to improve your balance – you’ll learn to adapt and adjust to running again. 

If you aren’t a running lover just yet, but would like to get started with all of your toes, check out our pain-free guide on how to start running for beginners.

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