Background: Intrinsic foot muscle weakness has been implicated in a range of foot deformities and disorders. However, to establish a relationship between intrinsic muscle weakness and foot pathology, an objective measure of intrinsic muscle strength is needed. The aim of this review was to provide an overview of the anatomy and role of intrinsic foot muscles, implications of intrinsic weakness and evaluate the different methods used to measure intrinsic foot muscle strength.
Method: Literature was sourced from database searches of MEDLINE, PubMed, SCOPUS, Cochrane Library, PEDro and CINAHL up to June 2012.
Results: There is no widely accepted method of measuring intrinsic foot muscle strength. Methods to estimate toe flexor muscle strength include the paper grip test, plantar pressure, toe dynamometry, and the intrinsic positive test. Hand-held dynamometry has excellent interrater and intrarater reliability and limits toe curling, which is an action hypothesised to activate extrinsic toe flexor muscles. However, it is unclear whether any method can actually isolate intrinsic muscle strength. Also most methods measure only toe flexor strength and other actions such as toe extension and abduction have not been adequately assessed. Indirect methods to investigate intrinsic muscle structure and performance include CT, ultrasonography, MRI, EMG, and muscle biopsy. Indirect methods often discriminate between intrinsic and extrinsic muscles, but lack the ability to measure muscle force.
Conclusions: There are many challenges to accurately measure intrinsic muscle strength in isolation. Most studies have measured toe flexor strength as a surrogate measure of intrinsic muscle strength. Hand-held dynamometry appears to be a promising method of estimating intrinsic muscle strength. However, the contribution of extrinsic muscles cannot be excluded from toe flexor strength measurement. Future research should clarify the relative contribution of intrinsic and extrinsic muscles during intrinsic foot muscle strength testing.