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If you’re interested in foot health, you’ve probably been seeing those toe spacers all over the place. Are they really necessary? I’m all about foot function, but even I was on the fence for a while. So let’s break it down and talk about why they’re a thing.
Why Toe Spacers?
Toe spacers are meant to realign your feet to their natural position. Most of us modern-day humans have been squishing our feet into tiny shoes our entire lives, and now they look more like shoes than feet. Spacers are a way of passively coaxing your feet back into their natural position with a full toe splay. Since toe splay is a powerful indicator for general foot health and lower extremity function, we want it!
It took years for your feet to look the way they do today, so it takes time for them to get back to what’s natural. This is what makes toe spacers so handy. You put them on and the work is being done while you go about your life: they’re a foot exercise you can do while sleeping! The effect of toe spacers will be most powerful when combined with barefoot shoes and other foot exercises, but you get a lot of bang for your buck with spacers alone.
A Word of Caution!
There is one caveat. Just like shoes, toe spacers can deform your feet if they are not anatomical. We’re interested in improving foot function, not having the widest toes possible. So I advise against putting on the cheapest pair of spacers you can find until you’ve done your research. No spacers are better than bad spacers, which is why I am recommending Correct Toes in this post. What makes Correct Toes great? Keep reading.
The Benefits of Correct Toes
Correct Toes were invented by podiatrist and runner Ray McClanahan as an alternative to standard “foot care.” He learned through research that toe splay is vitally important to foot function and set about finding a solution to the root cause of foot pain.
Correct Toes are made of medical grade silicone and come in 4 sizes. They are flexible, a little stretchy, they hold their shape through wear, wash off easily, and are ANATOMICAL. We’ll get to why this is so important in a minute, but first let’s talk about how Correct Toes benefit your feet.
Getting your feet aligned helps with a whole host of issues. Bunions, Hammer Toe, Morton’s Neuroma, and even my own Hallux Limitus and flat feet, are all conditions that can be improved from proper toe splay and strong intrinsic foot muscles. Just getting your tissues properly aligned can help a lot with foot pain, and in some cases resolve the problem altogether. We know that our feet are malleable because they have taken the shape of our shoes. So it stands to reason that we can shape them back.
For a long time it was believed that bunions were genetic and there was nothing to do about them except surgery, but it’s time to say buh-bye to that thinking. While there is a genetic component to just about everything, including bunions, research has shown for a while now that foot deformities can be corrected and prevented!
Improved Foot Function
Besides the benefit of foot alignment, when your toes are splayed you are able to activate your arch more easily (aka natural arch support). This is where benefits come in even if you don’t have bunions or other deformities.
It’s very likely you’re not using your feet much when you walk or exercise. Decades of restricting your feet make it hard to access those muscles and nerves, and most of us hobble around on dormant feet. Wearing Correct Toes while moving helps you engage that foot, which provides stability all the way up through the ankle and even to the hips and glutes.
Better movement is an immediate benefit you get from wearing CT, but it also helps you re-learn those patterns so you can continue to move well after you’ve taken them off.
Looks deviate from function here. A foot that looks “good” (aka toes are straight out) might not be helping you at all while you move, whereas a foot that looks ruined by shoes could be a total bad-ass at supporting your body. Active feet trump pretty feet.
I personally have a very good toe splay when I want it, but I still need to consciously think about engaging my feet when I move. With Correct Toes on I am primed for foot stability, and the more I wear them the more natural it becomes to use my feet. Engaged feet are foundational for all functional movement, which is one reason why Correct Toes are considered a performance enhancer
One of the secondary benefits of toe spacers is that they bring blood to your feet. Foot injuries turn chronic for a lot of people and one factor is a lack of sufficient blood flow. More blood = faster healing. Feet that are not used very often and/or squished into restrictive shoes are just not going to be getting much circulation, which is detrimental to health. When you put on a pair of toe spacers blood flows to the area, and blood is queen.
Will They Fix my Feet?
Good toe spacers like Correct Toes can actually change the way your feet are physically structured. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get picture-perfect baby toes after using them. Foot health is all about function over form, and you can expect to see improved function and fewer symptoms with strong aligned feet. Will your bunion completely disappear? I can’t say. Some people will use them for a while and find they don’t need them as often once the acute problem has resolved. Other people, like my own mother, will wear spacers forever to keep the toes from turning inward. Every experience will be highly individualized.
How Long Does it Take?
The thing about Correct Toes is that you get benefits immediately. The stretching of the feet, blood flow, etc all work to make your feet feel better right then and there. But if you are dealing with a bony deformity, you might need to be spacing your toes out for a long time, or for life. Same goes for a soft tissue problem like plantar fasciitis. There’s no way to really know what your journey to functional feet will look like. Combining your spacers with healthy footwear and lots of strengthening exercises is a great idea if you are looking for big change.
What If I Already Have Spread Out Toes?
I didn’t think of getting toe spacers myself for a long time because I can move all my toes individually and splay them wide. But that is only when I’m actively engaging my feet. Passively my toes still like to hug each other, so when I put on a pair of Correct Toes I still get extra width. That gives me increased stability while moving and the extra blood flow never hurt nobody.
Do I NEED Correct Toes? Maybe not. But I’m getting benefit out of them and since my foot health is very important to me I am going to continue using them. I consider it to be a natural pairing with all the other things I do to take care of my body.
Should I Wear Them While Active?
Having space between your toes is one thing. Having strong feet that are fully engaged is another, and wearing Correct Toes while being active is powerful. I really enjoy wearing mine while I do exercises and walk around the house, but I do all those things barefoot (and no, they don’t slide off my feet. If they do for you, wear them with socks). I don’t, however, love wearing my Correct Toes inside shoes, even shoes that are wide enough to accommodate them. The spacers are designed to give your toes room to wiggle and move, but it’s an odd sensation that I haven’t gotten used to yet.
If you plan to wear your spacers inside shoes, make sure they are wide enough to comfortably accommodate them. You can find lots of great recommendations for shoes with a wide toe box over in my Shoe Lists category!
How Long/Often do I Wear Them?
It can take a while to get used to toe spacers. As with most things, hurting yourself is not a good idea. So start with short periods of time and work your way up as you are comfortable.
There has been no irritation for me from the silicon, but it can be a pretty strong stretch. I have wide toes, and the first few days I wanted to take them off after 30 minutes or so. After a week I could wear them long stretches and didn’t notice them at all. For my husband the process was slower: the first week he was only wearing them for about 5 minutes at a time before ripping them off, and has been working up from there. My one “rule” is to not overdo it, like you would approach any stretch for the body. Sensations are good, pain is bad.
How Do I Make Modifications, Fit Issues, Etc?
One of the best things about Correct Toes is that it comes with an extensive guide to customizing your toe spacers to your feet. I did not modify mine, but there are MANY things you can do to get a custom fit. Be sure to check this out if you are having trouble with your spacers for any reason. You can find all the info you need here.
Why Do They Cost $65?
And here is the big question. Why do they cost so much?? You better believe I asked the same thing when I first looked into Correct Toes. Now that I have a pair and have researched the brand I can answer it. Correct Toes offers an incredible amount of resources and support so that you can actually make progress on your path toward foot health. Besides a wealth of information in the package that arrives at your door, you also have access to customer support and tons of guides on their website. Everyone who works for the company understands principles of foot health and will answer your questions. The product itself was thoroughly researched and expensive molds were purchased because foot health is the goal, not a huge profit margin. They are in fact better quality than cheaper alternatives, but you’re also getting a lot more than toe spacers when you purchase.
Correct Toes Vs Amazon Spacers
The truth is I’m pretty cheap. A 3-pack of toe spacers for $10 from Amazon is an almost irresistible pull, so I had to try some to compare. Spoiler alert: they’re not great. But I’ll let you see for yourself.
Correct Toes come in 4 sizes. Cheapo toe spacers? They are one size fits all. I wear shoe size 36 (Women’s US 6) and a small in Correct Toes. My husband wears shoe size 47 (Men’s US 13) and a size large in Correct Toes. But with the Amazon spacers, we both tried on the same size.
On me the Amazon spacers were definitely too bulky for my feet and pushed my toes out too far, but were somehow still tight and restrictive. On my husband, the spacing of his toes looked about right with the Amazon spacers, but they were REALLY tight around each toe.
You can see in the above videos that the Amazon spacers are really thick in between each toe. This pushes my toes at extreme angles and does not allow them to move freely. Correct Toes are genius because they insert space between your toes, but your toes can still move up, down, and side to side! This is exactly what you want your feet to be doing, and it also allows them to rest in a natural position. Amazon and other cheap spacers don’t give your toes a choice, because they are abritrarily spaced. You may get a good stretch in them, but wearing them for long periods of time or while active could change your feet in ways you don’t want.
This is how I feel about lacing your fingers in between your toes (see the end of this post for an example of this exercise). It is an extreme stretch that gives you lots of blood flow and loosens the tissues. It works great as a 30 second- 1 minute exercise. Would I want to walk around with fingers in between my toes all the time? Hell no. These one-size-fits all spacers are the same way. Fine for a little while, but not long periods.
Just Plain Cheap
The Amazon toe spacers are obviously lower quality and cheap. They’re harder to keep clean, and my mom (who has been using cheap silicone spacers for years) reports that they shrink over time. You get what you pay for. The End.
So are Correct Toes worth it? If you have a chronic foot issue, then I say yes. Feet are important, and if they are hurting you I wouldn’t mess around with cheap options. If you already have thriving feet but really want to improve your performance, then again yes. Go with what’s best rather than risk hurting yourself. If you are on the fence and not sure about dropping $65 on foot care, I understand. If you decide to go with a cheap option make sure you are tuned in to your feet and use them only for a short duration while resting. There’s a good chance you’ll circle back around to Correct Toes in the future!
Are you trying to improve your foot health? Below are some great exercises to get you started! And be sure to check out this post on why barefoot shoes are best for your feet.