Should We All Be Wearing Toe Spreaders?
They may look funny, but they can have a big impact on your feet.
A week ago, supermodel Ashley Graham posted a photo wearing toe spreader socks... and now the world wants to wear toe spreader socks, too. Or, at least, quite a few people on TikTok do, where the topics toe spreaders and toe spacers have been racking up over 88 million views. But what the heck are they?
Toe spreaders are little devices or special socks designed to help straighten toes that have become bent over time, says Gregory Alvarez, DPM, FACFAS, a podiatrist with Ankle and Foot Centers of America. Think along the lines of a big toe that’s angled inward because it’s been jammed into tight shoes, or little toes that look crooked or overlapped. “Toe spacers gently separate the toes and hold them in a comfortable position, allowing the tendons and ligaments that control toe movement to stretch out,” he tells Bustle.
The idea is to wear toe spacers for a few minutes every day until your tootsies eventually straighten out. By realigning your toes, the spacers help alleviate foot pain and correct related issues, says Lalitha McSorley, PT, a physical therapist and personal trainer at Brentwood Physio. While they come in sock form, she says you can also pick up silicone toe spacers that pop around each toe, like a firmer version of the spacers you get during a pedicure. Here’s everything to know about the small but mighty contraption that works wonders on achy feet.
The Benefits Of Toe Spreaders
People wear toe spreaders for all sorts of reasons, but according to Alvarez, they’re often used to correct toe deformities. You might want to get rid of crooked toes to change the appearance of your feet so that your toes look straighter in sandals, but realigning your feet can also relieve pain, provide a nice stretch, and fix other uncomfy issues, like cramping, swelling, and inflammation.
Toes that are spread out properly help you have better balance, too. As you use spacers, “your feet gain better stability and a sense of where your body is in space,” Alvarez explains. It’s related to proprioception, which helps with standing balance, walking, running, and sports.
Stretching the tendons and ligaments that control toe movement can also increase your range of motion, he says, and that in turn reduces strain on other joints in your feet to improve their overall function. (Read: No more achy feet when you walk or run.)
Just like straightening your teeth, straightening your toes makes them easier to take care of and clean, Alvarez adds. When your toes are straight, you’re less likely to get bunions, corns, and calluses — all issues that crop up when bent toes rub together or press into the sides of your shoes.
Signs You Need Toe Spreaders
You might want to slide into a pair of toe spreaders if you have bunions, hammertoes, claw toes, or overlapping toes caused by tight shoes. “If you experience pain in your feet when walking or standing, it may be an indication that toe spreaders could help improve your symptoms,” Alvarez says.
According to Helen O'Leary, a physiotherapist and clinical director at Complete Pilates, you can also wear toe spreaders as a way to stretch tired feet. To see if you truly need them, she recommends standing with bare feet on the floor and trying to spread your toes apart. If you can’t spread them, or if you can’t see any gaps between your toes when standing, it may be a sign you’d benefit from toe stretches and/or wearing toe spreaders, she says.
How To Wear Toe Spreaders
Toe spreaders come in all shapes and sizes. You can get spreaders that slide around your toes or socks with built-in spreaders, like Ashley Graham’s. If you aren’t sure what to buy, it never hurts to check in with your doctor.
Once you’ve procured the spacers, simply slide your toes into each spacer, making sure it fits firmly and comfortably, Alvarez says. “It's important to be patient with this exercise as it may take several weeks before you start to notice results,” he notes.
If the spacers hurt, O’Leary recommends wearing them for five minutes a day until your feet adjust, and then you can add a minute a day. Wear them every day, or at least most days of the week, and try to build up to 30 minutes total a day.
The Downsides Of Toe Spreaders
Because toe spreaders push your toes in a new direction, you might notice some pain or tightness, Alvarez says. To minimize the pain, read the instructions first and vow to yourself that you won’t try to do too much too soon, however tempting it may be.
Keeping them on for longer won’t necessarily speed up the process or magically fix major issues. It can also lead to muscle strain, McSorley says. It’s usually fine to wear toe spacers and see how they feel — just remember to listen to your body.
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Marco, A. (2020). Proprioceptive effects on gait and postural stability through mechanical stimulation with an Internal and External Heel Wedge: An interventional single-arm study. J Bodyw Mov Ther. doi: 10.1016/j.jbmt.2020.03.007.
Gregory Alvarez, DPM, FACFAS, podiatrist with Ankle & Foot Centers of America
Lalitha McSorley, PT, physical therapist, personal trainer at Brentwood Physio
Helen O'Leary, physiotherapist, clinical director at Complete Pilates