Dr. Mark Perez, DC
Most of us were born with healthy, functional feet. When you look at an infant’s foot you will
see that the toes are spread apart, nimble, and straight. You will also notice that the widest part of their foot is the toes and the narrowest portion is the heel. So why is it that in adults, this is rarely the case?
Unless you are a barefoot enthusiast or in a culture where shoes are uncommon, modern footwear tends to constrict the forefoot (the front 1/3rd of your foot). Over time, wearing shoes can change the shape of your foot by narrowing your toes and metatarsals—the long bones in the foot that lie just behind the toes. You might even notice a curling in your toes or a big toe than deviates toward the other toes that can lead to foot pain.
Not ready to give up your narrow shoes? I get it. We all want to look our best and some of the best-looking footwear for work and life happen to be a little too narrow for most people. I, myself happened to be born with Sasquatch feet (these are my wife’s words, not mine). After years of cramming my feet into narrow toe shoes I was blessed with bunions and collapsed arches by the time I was in my late twenties. If your story sounds like mine or you are a wellness-minded individual looking to improve the foundation for your body, there is a great solution called toe spreaders.
Toe spreaders separate the toes and place the foot in an ideal, functional position. Once the
foot is in optimal alignment, we begin to see a positive chain of events. Here are a few of the potential outcomes while using toe spreaders:
1. Help with overpronation - When the big toe is deviated towards the other the other four toes the biomechanics of the foot is disrupted. Think about a structural arch in architecture. If you move one side of the base, the arch will collapse—the rules are the same when it comes to the foot. When the big toe moves to the side, the medial longitudinal arch or the main arch of the foot, becomes compromised and falls closer to the ground. This can lead to not only toe and arch pain but heel pain, ankle pain, knee pain and even up into the low back and beyond.
2. Improve overall performance - Want to throw a ball faster? Get your feet stronger. Jump
higher? Get your feet stronger. Increase your clean and jerk? Get your feet stronger. Toe
spreaders are great for strengthening intrinsic foot muscles (muscles that reside in the foot and do not cross the ankle). Conventional footwear use over time can weaken these muscles and decrease the energy transfer from your feet to your entire body.
3. Improve balance - A stronger foot is a more stable foot. Restoring your foot to a more optimal position leads to stronger arches and a better distribution of weight across the entire foot. A wider foot creates a more stable base of support. This benefit really hits home when it comes to the elderly population and fall prevention.
Now that we know the benefits of toe spreaders lets talk application. To wear, simply place in
between toes with or without toe socks. Typically, one needs to ease into the length of time wearing toe spreaders each day. You wouldn’t run a marathon if you haven’t been running for a few years, right? Some discomfort/soreness may be experienced and that’s good indicator you reached your threshold of application for that day. While wearing toe spreaders, you can freely walk around and perform your normal day-today task. Once your feet are acclimated to the new changes exercise can be introduced. Personally, I love wearing them while doing yoga but during the session if my feet are aching, I take them off and complete the class. If your shoe has a wide enough toe box, toe spreaders can be worn inside but make sure your toes don’t feel cramped. Coming off a foot surgery such as a bunionectomy? Before introducing toe spreaders be sure to get clearance from a health
Mark Perez, DC, DNS, FDM, SFMA is a sports chiropractor practicing at Washington Park Chiropractic. He enjoys incorporating chiropractic adjustments along with myofascial work and rehab to optimize a patient’s healing time. His passion is getting patients out of pain and back to doing what they love.