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People Are Just Now Learning The Purpose Of The Pinky Toe

It plays a surprisingly important role.

James Felton

James Felton

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

James is a published author with four pop-history and science books to his name. He specializes in history, strange science, and anything out of the ordinary.

Senior Staff Writer

A pair of feet.

Show a little appreciation for the fingers of the feet.

Image credit: mariakray/

Human toes, no longer given the glamorous task of clinging to trees, are largely only paid attention to when you stub them or make the mistake of wearing sandals.

Losing the ability to grip branches with them may seem like a backward step, given how much cooler our commutes would be if we swung into work like Tarzan. However, the shorter, stubbier little piggies we are stuck with now give us several advantages, including helping us to run.


In one 2009 experiment, researchers tested the efficiency of various toe lengths in humans, finding that individuals with longer toes had to expend a lot more energy to run, suggesting an advantage for smaller toes for us bipeds. Another study found, however, that sprinters tend to have longer toes, getting a short burst of speed advantage in return for a lot more expended energy.

Even the little pinky, which looks like a contender for the most pointless appendage on the human body, does its job and does it well. Though all of the toes are used in keeping us balanced and moving forward, the toe sometimes refused to as the "little piggy" has a surprisingly important role.

"The purpose of the pinky toe is to provide balance and propulsion," podiatrist Dr Bruce Pinker from Progressive Foot Care told How Stuff Works. "As one takes a step, the foot rolls from lateral to medial in normal foot biomechanics."

The toe's knuckle plays a more important role than several of its neighbors.


“We walk like a tripod fashion, where the big toe knuckle, the fifth toe knuckle and the heel, have a tripod walking ability,” Dr Wenjay Sung, attending physician at White Memorial Medical Group told PopSci. “If you remove one part of that tripod, you lose balance.”

People are, of course, born without pinky toes, or lose them later due to illness or accidents, and are able to adjust to walking without. However, it can lead to an altered gait, or even falls from imbalance. So show a little appreciation for the fingers of the feet.

All “explainer” articles are confirmed by fact checkers to be correct at time of publishing. Text, images, and links may be edited, removed, or added to at a later date to keep information current.  

The content of this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.   


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