Toes are the digits (fingers) of the foot of a tetrapod. Animal species such as cats that walk on their toes are described as being digitigrade. Humans, and other animals that walk on the soles of their feet, are described as being plantigrade; unguligrade animals are those that walk on hooves at the tips of their toes.
There are normally five toes present on each human foot. Each toe consists of three phalanx bones, the proximal, middle, and distal, with the exception of the big toe (Latin: hallux). For a minority of people, the little toe also is missing a middle bone. The hallux only contains two phalanx bones, the proximal and distal. The phalanx bones of the toe join to the metatarsal bones of the foot at the interphalangeal joints. Outside the hallux bones is skin, and present on all five toes is a toenail.
The toes are, from medial to lateral:
The first toe, also known as the hallux (“big toe” or “great toe”), the innermost toe
The second toe, or “long toe”
The third toe, or “middle toe”
The fourth toe, or “ring toe”
The fifth toe, or “little toe”, “pinky toe”, or “baby toe”), the outermost toe
Toes are important for the functioning of a healthy foot. They absorb ground pressure and help you balance as you walk and run. Many of the problems that affect toes are caused by abnormal foot anatomy. Some common toe problems include:
Bunions: A bony bump that forms at the base of the big toe, causing it to deviate inward and crowd the other toes.
Hammertoes: A deformity that causes one or more toes to bend downward at the middle joint, resembling a hammer.
Corns and calluses: Thickened areas of skin that form on the toes due to friction or pressure.
Ingrown toenails: A condition where the edge of a toenail grows into the surrounding skin, causing pain and inflammation.
Athlete’s foot: A fungal infection that affects the skin between the toes, causing itching, burning, and cracking.
To keep your toes healthy and prevent problems, you should wear shoes that fit properly and provide enough room for your toes to move. You should also trim your toenails regularly and keep your feet clean and dry. If you have any pain or discomfort in your toes, you should consult a podiatrist (a doctor who specializes in foot care) for diagnosis and treatment.
Another interesting aspect of toes is their role in human evolution. Toes are believed to have evolved from the digits of ancestral tetrapods, which were aquatic or semi-aquatic animals that had limbs with webbed fingers and toes. As some of these animals adapted to life on land, their toes became more specialized for different functions, such as grasping, climbing, digging, or running.
One of the most distinctive features of human toes is the hallux, or the big toe. Unlike other primates, who have opposable big toes that can grasp objects and branches, humans have a non-opposable big toe that is aligned with the other toes. This is thought to be an adaptation for bipedalism, or walking upright on two legs. Having a big toe that points forward helps humans maintain balance and push off the ground when walking or running. However, some people still have a vestigial ability to move their big toe independently of the other toes, which is known as hallux varus.
Another evolutionary change in human toes is the reduction in size and number of toes. Some ancient human ancestors, such as Australopithecus and Paranthropus, had longer and more curved toes than modern humans, which suggests that they still spent some time climbing trees. However, as humans evolved to become more terrestrial and adapted to different environments, their toes became shorter and straighter, which improved their efficiency and speed on the ground. Some humans also have fewer than five toes on each foot, which is a condition known as oligodactyly. This can be caused by genetic mutations or environmental factors during development.