Long second toe

It is frequently held that a “long second toe”, or “Morton’s toe” is the cause of (one form of) foot pain. This has justified “shortening” of the second toe [At times, unbelievably, lengthening of the great toe ray]

The reality is that a longer (than the great toe) second toe is a frequent happening and there is NO evidence that this is a cause for foot pain. It is true that the second toe is often the first toe to give problems, but this is nothing to do with with its being “longer”. There are other explanations.

The Web, in this instance, is replete with incorrect information, and the “reasons” given should be interpreted with great caution.

Museings on Gait

There seem to be a number of “periferal” components to gait.
The first concept is that the position of the ankle is critical. There is only a small area of the sole of the foot through which the center of gravity of the body as a whole can be accepted, probably less than two square centimeters. Thus I have coined the term “posture priority” structure(s).
Any interference with the ability to dispose the CofG into that critical area will markedly impede gait.
It is, of course, possible to compensate by adjusting other parts, such as the lower limbs or the vertebrae to ensure that the CofG is placed correctly, but often at a price (for example back pain). This kinetic cascade up the lower limbs to the vertebrae and even further (look at a spastic attempting to walk), is at a price – perhaps in energy costs, but also in pain and destruction of the skeleton (Yes! But too complex to relate here. Suffice it to say that of the persons who consult me because of foot deformities – bunions, clawed toes, etc., 50% have had, or are planning to have total knee “replacements”. Yes, 50%!.)
This letter is getting too long, and so much of what I wish to say about periferal factors I will leave for another day.

Forefoot Deformities

The cause of the commonest deformities (and the commonest incapacitating deformities) of humans is shortening of (usually) the calf muscles. I could elaborate via a PowerPoint presentation. (which I could send). This influences the necessity for posture specific anatomy as previously discussed.

But, current treatment philosophies causes other problems (See my essay “The Hallux Paradox”), one of which is an osteo-arthritis.
Back to the neurology: The “shortening” in the calf can be of the muscles controlling the forefoot (“Bunions”, clawed toes, metatarsalgia) or the hindfoot – via the triceps suri – or both.
  1. Now, the “shortening”: In young women (common, pre-menarche) it is probably a hypertonia – indeed I have treated it with Botox. We could talk about that much.
  2. In the mature (and this is usually an age related problem) it is probably a vasculitis/fibrosis. The premature incidence is high in diabetics, PVDisease, rheumatoid. Perhaps Guillaum-Barre and polio rarely. I could talk much about polio – now phasing out, but there are still the elderly who had forme fruste polio as children (usually not diagnosed).
  3. Finally there is the questionable place of the deep fascia and its pathology. Again this is a chapter in its own right upon which I could enlarge at length.
I am sorry that this is so piecemeal and abbreviated, but it is not simple (although regarded by my colleagues as mechanistic and simple, which is why it goes wrong). Of particular neurological interest is the “hypertonia”, which was demonstrated in a child who you presented who had previously been subject to epilepsy surgery..

Foot Tripod Concept Refuted

Since the nineteenth century the belief has become ensconced that the foot is a static structure, concerned primarily with allowing the human to balance whilst standing [i][ii]To re-inforce that the concept of the foot as a “tripod” evolved, with the sub-agenda that the “tripod” arrangement would allow greater stability and a more even distribution of weight across the plantar surface. However that concept fails to recognise that the human is primarily a mobile creature and is, in essence, a “balancing machine”.

The concept of the “tripod foot” acting to distribute weight evenly across the plantar surface was refuted in 1987[iii] That paper showed by load distribution analysis that the heel carried 60%, the midfoot 8%, and the forefoot 28% The toes were only minimally involved in the weight bearing process.

The concept of the tripod foot is bound in with the belief that the foot’s primary purpose is to accept weight when standing. That is incorrect. The foot has many functions, but its primary function is to act as a brake on forward movement. The human is designed to move forward and as a result significant design exists to counter forward falling (falling backwards is less frequent and far more injurious, at times catastrophically so). Thus numerous “fail safe” features are built into reducing the damage of falling forward. Perhaps the most important is the primary function of the foot which is to allow the moving human to decelerate safely. Said another way, the foot acts as a brake on forward movement.  To fulfill that role, and to adapt to other roles the marvelous capacity of the foot is to adept at adjusting to irregularities in the surface in all three axis. This is what the normal foot usually does with great capability.

To illustrate, it is relatively easy to walk on stilts or on a Syme’s amputation – where there is no forefoot.  But the stilt walker and bilateral Syme’s victims are unable to arrest forward movement. In other words, they cannot “brake”.

The “standing, weight bearing” function is relatively unimportant, and that normal flexible adaptability should never be sacrificed in order to create the fictional “weight bearing tripod”. Sadly the (obsolete) belief in the “Foot tripod” colours all thinking by “conventional” surgeons. This obsession with the “tripod” concept prevails in all the orthopaedic surgeons and surgical podiatrists with whom I discuss these matters, with frightening regularity as a “knee-jerk” rule-of-thumb.

Because (for other reasons) the foot is a relatively short lever arm it is necessary to have a powerful muscle to action the braking mechanism, and this muscle is the triceps suri. Being so powerful pathological shortening of the triceps can be significantly disabling if it is abnormal. The most common abnormality is shortening. This seems to be an “age related change” but is also associated with diabetes, peripheral vascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, hypertonia of central origin, trauma, Guillaum Barre syndrome and (in the past) poliomyelitis


[i] [i] Dawid Burger, MD, Amiethab Aiyer, MD*, Mark S. Myerson, MD Evaluation and Surgical Management of the Overcorrected Clubfoot Deformity in the Adult Patient ) December 2015 Volume 20, Issue 4, Pages 587–599

[ii] Cavanagh PR, Rodgers MM, Iiboshi A Foot Ankle. Foot Ankle. Foot Ankle. 1987 Pressure distribution under symptom-free feet during barefoot standing.1987 Apr;7(5):262-76.

Misnaming and Misunderstanding

Many terms develop to become derogatory, despite originating with a benign meaning.
Thus some terms transmogrify to become catagorised as “vile” or “despicable” and many other similar deprecating terms. This reflects the common human heuristic (a short cut), demonstrating the inability to quantify within a spectrum. Humans rely upon “binary” neurology. Therefore the instant (emotional) categorization (heuristic) is either “good” or “bad”, “desirable” or “undesirable”, “repulsive” or “attractive”.
Where a spectrum is presented, new and specific words are evolved to demarcate each position on the spectrum as a distinct entity: This is illustrated in the colour spectrum, where a multitude of words have been evolved to describe each component of that spectrum.
What if this wording goes wrong? What if the wrong word is accepted as valid?
In orthopaedic surgery, in relation to the descriptions of the commonest deformity suffered by humans, such a misnomer is universally accepted, which has allowed an incorrect concept to evolve. Subsequently a plethora of incorrect surgical procedures have been invoked and inflicted upon an un-suspecting public.
That word is “metatarsal” when it is (incorrectly) applied to the longest bone supporting the great toe. That bone is, correctly, a phalanx. Thus the (human) great toe has – like all the other toes and fingers – three phalanges. What determines the correct appellation? Many bones have characteristic sites of the “growth plates”, seen only in the growing bone. In the phalanges that growth plate is “proximal” that is towards the head. In the metatarsal it is “peripheral”, that is away from the head.

Therefore the great toe, correctly, has three phalanges. The true metatarsal is reduced to become the short “medial cuneiform”. Such changes might be related to the evolution of an “opposable” first ray in both the hand and the foot (as an atavistic expression in the foot). This is an important concept because the commonest deformity of the great toe exactly emulates the (similar) deformity in the second toe, which is named “clawing” in the lesser toes (if untreated that might become a “hammer toe”).
Thus the cause of this deformity of the great toe duplicates exactly the cause of a “clawed” second toe. Consequently the appropriate treatment of the great toe deformity should duplicate the treatment of a “clawed” lesser toe.
Hallux valgus (and “metatarsus primus varus”, another fallacious term) recurs, following “conventional” surgery. This has spawned a number of scientific papers addressing the question “Does excessive laxity of the ‘metatarso-cuneiform joint’ predispose to recurrence of the condition?”. This is fatuous, since the anatomy of that joint has no bearing on the cause of the pathology. That joint only has a bearing on the “Hallux Paradox” (see elsewhere)

Hallux Valgus Paradox

Typical Hallux valgus does not cause a degenerative arthritis in the great “mt”p joint. Gross distortion, with subluxation of the phalanx, does produce degenerative changes, but of a different type.

However it is the “aligned” great toe which evolves into osteoarthritic damage (the “Hallux Rigidus”)

A problem which arise are that the symptoms of patients with pain at the “mt”p joint are not taken seriously at family practitioner level. There is a reason for that, which is the unsatisfactory and highly painful, surgery currently “conventional” for the great toe.

  1. Instead the patient is often advised to “wait until it gets worse”, before obtaining expert advice. The tragic outcome is that (otherwise preventable) destructive changes are allowed to evolve.
  2. Another problem is that “straightening” the great toe converts a hallux valgus (itself infrequently painful) into an incapacitating destruction of the great “mt”p joint. This is illustrated below.

The etiologies of these evolutions are clear, and easily comprehended.


How does the surgery I offer differ from “conventional” forefoot surgery?

How does the surgery I offer differ from “conventional” forefoot surgery?

This re-cap follows years of requests. Indeed this information-to-patients is obligatory in terms of Health Professional Council requirements.

Conventional surgery is based upon the belief that the age related deformities of the forefoot is caused by abnormalities of the bones, thus granting the domain to orthopaedic surgeons.

Consequently the surgical “correction” is aimed at the bones of the forefoot. This takes the form of dividing and angling the “metatarsal” of the great toe, and fixing that “correction” with plates and screws. The clawed lesser toes have some or all the joints ablated. These damaged lesser toes are then held in a “corrected” position by pins or screws driven down the marrow cavity of those toes. Following this surgery to bone it is hoped that these divided bones will heal and join, as fractured bones (usually) heal. This requires immobilisation for many weeks using plaster-of-Paris or surgical “boots”. Crutches are often required and ambulation is severely impaired for many weeks. The lesser toes become permanently rigid, often looking “awkward” and un-natural.

Since the cause of the deformity is not addressed, this “conventional” surgery is effectively “cosmetic” surgery. Unfortunately, also, “conventional” surgery is also not a permanent solution, and deterioration of the joint at the base of the great toe (developing degenerative osteoarthritis) is common. The other (un-operated) toes progressively (but at an unpredictable rate) “claw” and become uncomfortable, with corns on the top and calluses on the sole.

Recurrence of the deformity is a common occurrence following “conventional” surgical treatment of hallux valgus.(Arch Orthop Trauma Surg. 2012 Apr;132(4):477-85. doi: 10.1007/s00402-011-1447-6. Epub 2011 Dec 29.)

This “surgery-to-bone” for “bunions” and the other deformities of the forefoot was developed over a hundred years ago and has been passed down unaltered through generations of orthopaedic surgeons. Over one hundred forms of treatment for “bunions” have been described. Clearly there is not one which is convincingly superior to the others, and the selection of one form of correction as opposed to another is simply a “stab in the dark”.

It has been reported that of those subject to conventional “bunion” surgery over 30% suffered pain for at least two years (Foot Ankle Int. 2016 Oct;37(10):1071-1075. Epub 2016 Jun 19.) A recent paper presented in Europe claimed that in more than 30% of cases of “bunion” surgery were ultimately regarded as a failure.

I have been able to demonstrate (as I do for all my patients) that the problem is not in the bones of the toes, and “conventional” surgery damages – usually  irreparably – perfectly normal bones and joints, which then are expected to heal (effectively a gamble)

I have been able to show convincingly that the problem lies in the muscles serving the forefoot, and appropriate surgery demands that these soft tissues need to be corrected. This is the foundation cause to be addressed.  [The cause of the muscle imbalance requires a paper in its own right, and is unlikely to do with footwear]

A justified surgical axiom is that “if the cause is unknown the appropriate treatment is impossible”. To that end I have lectured to the South African Orthopaedic Association and the Foot and Ankle Society of South Africa, (“What REALLY causes Bunions?” – available on request).  By and large the message has been ignored for over twenty years, in defiance of objectivity.

The majority of persons with deformities of the forefoot are elderly, often living alone and dependent upon themselves entirely. Often financial resources are limited. Thus when I designed the procedure it was intended that this should be performed under regional anaesthesia (with a rapid return to a safe sensate foot) allowing the patient to be discharged from hospital the same day, able to walk independently, securely and safely [not encumbered by a cast or “boot” or (God forbid) crutches.] The procedure should be economical (with day-case discharge mostly) and not incur the costs of screws, plates, casts or boots.

What does the procedure NOT do?

Correction of the “bunion” might be slow or incomplete.  This is because long delays before seeking treatment (usually the case) allow progressive deterioration and multiple other irreversible changes at the base of the great toe (the “bunion”) . However this is likely irrelevant because it is the PAIN which drives people to surgery. The “bunions” become painless following this surgical management. The lesser toes often, or usually, lose the ability to “curl” or “claw”. However this is irrelevant, since the very reason the surgery is performed is to reverse “clawing”. In any event “conventional” surgery causes the toes to be rigidly inflexible and ugly. This disability has been over-ridden or ignored by those who harvest FDL at the level of the ankle joint

What is preserved, and develops progressively more, is the ability to “arch” the forefoot, necessary to hold slippers and other loose shoes in place.

Why has “conventional” surgery persisted? Partly because some of my colleagues know no better. I sympathise with them: this is what they were taught, their teachers have been taught this and have been taught so for generations.

However, some of my colleagues are content doing this surgery. It allows a high income, not only for the first procedure but for the subsequent removal of implanted metal. Further the “metal implant” industry is large, powerful and persuasive. Many of my colleagues have been “sponsored”  by the metal implant industry, at times with journeys paid to overseas congresses.

Then there is the widespread rigidity of medical science – a contented arrogant rigidity. Look at the history of discovery of Helicobacter for an example!

Many of my colleagues have been deprecating and defamatory towards me.  Some have prompted the idea of malpractice. In reality it is the “conventional” forefoot surgeons who are guilty of malpractice, by doing the wrong procedure for the wrong reasons.