Extensor Hallucis Brevis and Extensor Digitorum Brevis: Learn Your Muscles

The extensor hallucis brevis and extensor digitorum brevis are small muscles on the top of your foot. They help lift four of your toes, so if you have any toe pain or if your toes don’t lift off the ground very well, you’ll want to learn more about these muscles. Here’s more about these small muscles and what you can do to keep them strong.


extensor hallucis brevis, extensor digitorum brevis

Thanks to Triggerpoints.net for the image.

The extensor hallucis brevis originates on the top, middle part of your calcaneus (heel bone). According to my Flash Anatomy Muscle Flash Cards, it also originates at the lateral talocalcaneal ligament and inferior extensor retinaculum. The talocalcaneal ligament helps connect the calcaneus (heel bone) to the talus, which is a large bone in the ankle just beneath the tibia. Extensor hallucis brevis inserts at the bottom of the lowest of the bones in the big toe.

The origin of the extensor digitorum brevis is on the top, outside surface of the calcaneus. It shares two points of origin with the extensor hallucis brevis–the lateral talocalcaneal ligament and the inferior extensor retinaculim. The inferior extensor retinaculim is a Y-shaped ligament that runs from around the outside of your heel, across your ankle, then branches up toward your tibia and down toward the inside of the arch of your foot. Extensor digitorum brevis branches into three tendons and inserts onto the tendons of the extensor digitorum longus of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th toes.

These muscles are on the top of your foot.


Technically, you could say that the extensor hallucis brevis extends the proximal phalanx of the hallux. However, this really means that it lifts the lower bone segment of the big toe.

The extensor digitorum brevis essentially does the same for the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th toes.

Common Dysfunction

When these muscles are dysfunctional, they cause pain in the toes and feet. A dysfunctional extensor hallucis brevis might cause pain in the big toe or a reduced ability to lift the big toe. Extensor digitorum brevis dysfunction might cause pain in the 2nd-4th toes or a reduced ability to lift them.

You’ll notice when you try to lift your toes that you can easily lift your big toe separate of the others. However, if you try to lift your 3th toe, it can’t lift without bringing its neighbors along. Your little toe has very limited ability to lift and remember that the extensor digitorum brevis does not impact the function or movement of your little toe at all.

Restoring or Maintaining Health

If you think that you have injured your extensor hallucis brevis or extensor digitorum brevis, contact your doctor immediately. He or she can order the appropriate imaging, therapy, and medicine necessary for you to heal as quickly as possible.

For advice on how to keep these small foot muscles healthy, I have a couple of suggestions.

  • If you feel like you have pain or reduced function in this area, try getting a professional massage. A massage therapist can help try to relieve some of the tightness you may be feeling.
  • Practice seated yoga poses like Virasana, Thunderbolt pose, or Child’s pose where you stretch the top of your foot and ankle.
  • Stand and lift your toes off the ground. Feel how the four corners of your foot press down. (The four corners are under your big toe, under your little toe, and the inside and the outside of your heel.)

More Information

For those who are more interested in technical terminology and smaller muscles, I recommend Flash Anatomy Muscles Flash Cards. Any time a client comes to me with pain, I use these flash cards.

Also, the image that I used above came from Triggerpoints.net. Because their information is geared toward massage therapists practicing trigger point therapy, their images are often a very clear path to find the muscle externally. Here’s a link to their information about the extensor hallucis brevis and extensor digitorum brevis.

Do you have any other suggestions for strengthening or stretching the extensor hallucis brevis and extensor digitorum brevis? Let us know in the comments below.

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About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. I believe you can use simple exercises to relieve your aches + pains. AND, I believe I can teach you how.