Alright enough is enough, it’s time to stop dragging your feet in regards to taking care of that nagging big toe pain that you have been dealing with for months! Maybe you have tried a thousand pairs of shoes, spent your retirement fund on a new pair of orthotics, or have started paying the neighbor boy to walk Fido. Trust me, we get it, discomfort in your big toe joint can be very troublesome and feel very limiting, but guess what? You’re in luck as this is also a very treatable condition with the appropriate rehab program. Ready to get back on your feet? Let’s dive into how to rehab big toe pain…the right way with the best big toe exercises!


What Causes Big Toe Pain

Big toe pain can feel like a daunting condition to treat if we don’t fully understand why we are experiencing the pain so before we get after treating that big toe pain of yours, let’s talk about why the heck you are experiencing big toe pain. Maybe you have heard the term bunions tossed around or osteoarthritis, let’s dive into each of these a bit more. While these diagnoses can seem overwhelming, they are really just fancy terms for ‘hypomobility through the MTP joint’ meaning that your big toe just isn’t moving as well as we would like it to. Check out the picture below!


anatomy of the big toe the prehab guys

Anatomy of the big toe.


Bunions/Hallux Valgus:

We hear the term bunion a lot, so what does it mean? A bunion is a result of the first metatarsophalangeal joint, or the big toe, drifting medially, or inward. Often times this is a result of degenerative changes over time, excessive use of improper shoe wear, and can also be hereditary in nature (1). It should be noted hallux valgus deformities were rarely noticed in Japan until after the introduction of Western- style footwear following World War II (1). Putting our feet into a shoe that has a narrow shoe box can over time, put unnecessary stress on the big toe and cause the big toe to drift inward. One of the biggest culprits of this improper footwear is high heels, time to drop the stilettos ladies!


hallux valgus bunion the prehab guys

The above picture demonstrates what happens with hallux valgus or a bunion.


Arthritis/Hallux Rigidus:

Osteoarthritis or hallux rigidus is another common cause of big toe pain and discomfort. Osteoarthritis means that there is limited space in the joint that is often times associated with inflammation and a loss of cartilage in the joint space (2). Research shows that hallux rigidus is often found in those who have a family history of arthritis, those who have a history of trauma to the region, or those who are female (3). Now, it should be noted here that a diagnosis of hallux rigidus, or arthritis in the joint does not always correlate with high levels of pain. Recent studies show evidence of alterations in nerve processing of both the peripheral and central nervous system in regards to pain nerve sensitization but this varies greatly from case to case and with the severity of the arthritis within the joint (4).

Improve Your Big Toe and Ankle Dorsiflexion Mobility With Our Program!

ankle dorsiflexion mobility big toe pain exercises prehab guys

In order to optimize foot and ankle mobility, you also have to optimize big toe mobility! Specifically, an adequate extension of the big toe is vitally important for pushing off through our foot as we begin the gait cycle. To learn more about our ankle dorsiflexion program, click HERE!



Seasmoiditis is inflammation of a small set of two bones embedded in the flexor hallucis brevis tendon (5). The role of these bones is to decrease the friction of the tendon during movement, similar to how the knee cap operates (5).  Pretty cool, huh? Bet’cha didn’t know you had two small “knee caps” on the bottom of your big toe! Oftentimes, we see sesmoiditis with a turf toe type of injury due to repetitive strain and overuse of the flexor hallucis brevis muscle and repetitive impact (5). Sesamoiditis is often overlooked in regards to a diagnosis for big toe pain but is very treatable. In the early stages of this injury, it’s important to follow the P.O.L.I.C.E Principle in regards to protecting the joint and loading it appropriately, appropriate progression from here is key to getting you back on the field.

While these diagnoses can seem overwhelming, they are really just fancy terms for ‘inflammation in the joint’ and ‘hypomobility’ meaning that your big toe just isn’t moving as well as we would like it to. The great news is, there are exercises that can help with this! One of the biggest things I try to educate my patients on is maintaining appropriate mobility in their feet. The foot is made up of 33 joints and ALL those joint needs to be working well to keep us on our feet.

If you have heard “surgery” mentioned in regards to dealing with your big toe pain I would strongly suggest trying conservative treatment first.  Now, there is a time and place for surgical intervention, but in regards to the foot, once you alter one joint and how it moves, you alter them all and this can lead to further complications up the chain. Research has shown us that surgical intervention for a bunion can severely alter dorsiflexion of the foot, and this motion is crucial for normal gait mechanics, running biking… you name it! Without appropriate dorsiflexion, we can start experiencing knee pain, hip pain, and even back pain (2).  Make us a promise right now and try some of these conservative exercises first, we think you will like them!


Tips on How To Deal With Big Toe Pain


Best Big Toe Exercises

Big Toe Joint Mobilization

Sample Ankle Dorsiflexion Overhaul Prehab Program Exercise Video

  • HOW: In a seated position, cross the involved leg and foot over the other leg’s knee with your ankle hanging unsupported. Grab your foot around the ball of your foot stabilizing the whole foot with that hand. With the other hand, gently pull your big toe straight out as you move it up and down for the prescribed amount of reps. 


  • FEEL: You should feel a gentle stretch in your big toe joint. 


  • COMPENSATION: Don’t move your foot, focus the movement only in your big toe.


Toe Spreading

This is one of the tougher big toe exercises! Persistence is key! This is also a great exercise to perform on your involved foot, but also your uninvolved foot as well as it’s great to improve mobility through all of your toes. Why not show both feet a little TLC?


Exercises to Improve Foot Strength big toe exercises the prehab guys


Big Toe Exercises – Liftoff Seated

This is another one that will seem hard, and it should if you are doing it right! Practice makes perfect with this exercise and it takes a while to train that neural pathway all the way from your brain down to your big toe! Keep after it though, we are rooting for you!


Prehab Membership The Prehab Guys

The Prehab membership is the anti-barrier solution to keeping your body healthy. Access state-of-the-art physical therapy, fitness programs, and workouts online in the comforts of your own home or gym! Taking control of your health with exercise & education from the palm of your hand has never been easier. Get access to 50+ programs, 100+ unique workouts, and 3000+ exercises to build your own workout routines. Trial it for free, and learn how to get out of pain, avoid injury, and optimize your health with [P]rehab!


Heel Raise with Big Toe Extension

This is a great way to work on strengthening the plantarflexor muscles or the muscle that assists with getting up onto our toes and the ‘push-off’ phase of gait. Using the towel roll assists with getting that extra bit of big toe mobility.


Split Stance Lunge-Big Toe Extension

Let’s make it functional! One of the best aspects of big toe exercises is to work on improving big toe mobility is incorporating big toe extension while performing the walking motion. With this split stance lunge, we are able to work on functionally improving the mobility of the great toe while in a position that is similar to walking.


lunge variations big toe pain exercises prehab guys


Closing Thoughts

Big toe pain is frustrating, but we are here to help you get back on your feet with these awesome big toe exercises! With a focus on appropriate joint mobility, strengthening through a range that is functional, and improving your joint mechanics with walking and return to sport-related tasks, these exercises can serve as a way to help you get back to the activity you want to do! Hopefully, Fido will stop whining at the door for you to take him out for a walk.


Maximize Your Big Toe and Ankle Mobility!

ankle dorsiflexion mobility big toe pain exercises prehab guys

Tasks such as squatting, going up and down stairs, walking over uneven ground, and pushing up onto our toes to reach an object overhead can feel extremely difficult if you are missing ankle dorsiflexion. Even keeping balance can become difficult! If you start to lose balance one of the first ways your brain will attempt to correct and keep you upright is using an ankle strategy that utilizes ankle dorsiflexion. The efficient movement relies on ankle dorsiflexion and this program is the guide to get you there.



  1. Cho, N. H., Medicine, P. D. of P., Kim, S., Rheumatology, R. D. of, Kwon, D.-J., Surgery, P. D. of O., Kim, H. A., Rheumatology, P. D. of, & Lee, K. B. (2009, April 1). The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. British volume. Bone & Joint Publishing.
  2. Kennedy, J. G., & Collumbier, J. A. (2008). Bunions in Dancers. Clinics in Sports Medicine, 27(2), 321–328.
  3. Michael J. Coughlin, P. S. S. (n.d.). Hallux Rigidus: Demographics, Etiology, and Radiographic Assessment – Michael J. Coughlin, Paul S. Shurnas, 2003. SAGE Journals.
  4. O’Neill, T. W., & Felson, D. T. (2018, August 28). Mechanisms of Osteoarthritis (OA) Pain. Current Osteoporosis Reports.
  5. Kumar, S., Kadavigere, R., Puppala, R., Ayachit, A., & Singh, R. (2015, May). Subhallucal Interphalangeal Sesamoiditis: A Rare Cause of Chronic Great Toe Pain. Journal of clinical and diagnostic research : JCDR.


About the Author

Lauren Lynass PT, DPT, CSCS

[P]Rehab Head of Videos & Content Creator

Dr. Lauren Lynass is a Colorado girl at heart. While she grew up skiing, snowshoeing, and building snowman, she has traded in her snowy mountains for California beach life and currently lives with her husband and dog in their travel trailer “The Burrito.” As a physical therapist, Lauren has experience working with pediatrics, runners, geriatrics, athletes, and itty bitty newborns. She is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Level 1 Certified Running Gait Analyst, Dry Needling Certified, and uses her expertise to host sport specific strength and conditioning classes for local high school athletes. When Lauren isn’t treating patients, you can find her running along the Cali coast, hiking with the pup and husband, or simply swinging in a hammock lost in a good book. She considers herself a life long learner and loves that being a physical therapist provides her with the opportunity to do so! She enjoys being a part of the [P]rehab Team as it allows her to collaborate with some of the very best in the field and empower others to take charge and ownership of their wellbeing.

Disclaimer – The content here is designed for information & education purposes only and is not intended for medical advice.

About the author : Lauren Lynass

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