MadSci Network: Anatomy

Re: How does your little toe affect your balance ?

Date: Tue Jun 13 07:17:09 2006
Posted By: Thomas M. Greiner, Assistant Professor of Anatomy
Area of science: Anatomy
ID: 1149246928.An

Does your little toe affect balance?

This is one of those yes and no types of questions.

Yes, the little toe effects your ability to balance because it is part of the foot. The entire surface of your foot reacts by changing shape and orientation when you step on uneven surfaces, such as walking on grass, or sand, or over rocks. The tricky part is that the little toe is used as part of this process, but is not the only part or even the most important part. Would you have a problem with balance if you did not have a little toe? Probably not. If the toe were to be cut off by accident you would probably have some minor problems adjusting to your new foot shape, but once you got used to it you probably would not have any problems at all.

So, why do we have a little toe if its not absolutely necessary? A lot of what we see in anatomy is there because of evolutionary ancestry. When the first land animals evolved there were species with several numbers of toes. For some reason only the five toed species survived and so every animal with toes including humans has a body that is built on the five toe pattern. Sure, there are some animals with fewer toes, but in their evolutionary history there was an advantage to this condition. That advantage never existed in human evolutionary history, so we still have five toes.

Some people claim that humans will eventually evolve an anatomy that lacks the little toe. Although this is one possibility, people that make that claim are misinterpreting the evolutionary process. Just because the little toe is not a critical part of the foot does not mean that it will evolve away. Evolutionary change of this sort only occurs when there are genes that code for this variation (they dont exist yet in humans, as far as I know) AND there is a selective advantage to the condition.

Would our foot work better without the little toe? Under current human environmental conditions no. So, unless conditions change there is no reason for the evolutionary process to cause humans to lose their little toes.

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