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Little Toe With a Big Job: Standing Tall With Your Pinky’s Help

By Martha Michael

Pinky Toe

Your pinky toe is the weakest digit on your foot, but despite its diminutive size, the little piggy that “goes wee wee wee” plays a big role in maintaining balance. It’s not like a bicycle kickstand that supports the entire structure; it’s more like the leg of a chair that shares the load with its counterparts.

Physical Properties of Your Pinky Toe

The fifth toe, or outermost digit of your foot, is much like the other four toes. The visible features -- the skin, nails, and shape -- are similar, just smaller, and all your toes are connected to the heel by the plantar fascia.

According to an article in Healthline, the physical properties of your pinky toe include three phalangeal bones:

  • Proximal - Most closely connected to the foot, it shares a joint with the fifth metatarsal bone
  • Intermediate - The center phalanx, it connects the proximal and distal phalanges
  • Distal - The phalanx that’s on the end, the farthest from the foot

Your pinky toe has flexor and abductor digiti minimi muscles that provide active support. A superficial branch to the lateral plantar nerve serves your fifth digit while the plantar arch artery provides oxygenated blood to your pinky toes.

Why You Need Your Pinky Toe

An article in Popular Science explains the origin of the pinky toe, claiming its purpose has evolved since early man.

“Primates use their feet to grab, claw, to climb trees, but humans, we don’t need that function anymore,” says Dr. Anish Kadakia, assistant professor in orthopedic surgery at Northwestern University. “Clearly, we’re not jumping up and down trees and using our feet to grab. We have toes embryologically, evolutionary for that particular reason because we descended from apes, but we don’t need them as people.”

Our five toes work together to provide balance through the 26 total bones in our forefoot, midfoot, and hindfoot. The metatarsal bones are the most important when it comes to helping us stand upright. Like a tripod, we maintain stability using our heel, the metatarsal known as the fifth toe knuckle, and the big toe’s metatarsal. To run, walk, or skip requires a functioning pinky toe, though you can continue most daily activities even when it’s injured.

Conditions of the Pinky Toe

The pinky toe is more likely to be injured than the others because of its location on the outside of the foot, but some people are born with deformities involving the little toe.

Polydactyly - Approximately 1 in 500 babies are born with a common condition known as polydactyly of the foot, according to the website OrthoBullets.com. Typically, a baby born with polydactyly of the foot has six toes on one foot but sometimes there are more digits. The extra toes can be surgically removed but if the set of toes are functional, doctors may recommend leaving them in place and keeping the baby under observation. There are often no negative functional side effects for people with polydactyly but they can face challenges when looking for shoes that fit.

Overlapping toes - People of all ages can have overlapping toes and the digit most often affected is the pinky toe, according to an article by WebMD. It’s not a dangerous condition but you can develop bunions, flat feet, or other foot trauma. Factors that contribute to overlapping toes include:

  • Obesity
  • Age
  • Hammertoe
  • Mallet toe
  • Overpronation
  • Heredity

Injuries - A broken pinky toe, which refers to a fracture of your foot’s smallest digit, is not uncommon according to an article in Medical News Today. It typically occurs at the base of the toe and fractures often result from stubbing your toe or dropping something weighty on it.

Symptoms of a broken toe include:

  • Pain at the break
  • Popping noise when the fracture occurs
  • Crooked appearance
  • Bruising or redness
  • Swelling

When you incur a stress fracture it means there’s a slight crack in the toe or bruising in the bone. Also referred to as a hairline fracture, it’s often brought on by overuse from repetitive activities. If you experience pain during or after engaging the toe, or if it’s painful and swollen but with no bruising, you may have a stress fracture. Stay off the foot and seek advice from your chiropractor for treatment.

As you know, if you’ve ever slammed your pinky toe into a table leg, the littlest piggy may be the runt of the litter, but it makes a big impact on your stability. Like most of your body parts, your little toe doesn’t stand on ceremony; it contributes to maximum function and overall wellness.

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