If you've ever had a pedicure, you've experienced the sensation of colorful foam spacers between your toes. This tool is designed to gently hold them apart and keep your fresh coat from smudging. You might not realize, however, that specialized toe spacers can also provide relief from foot pain.
How Toe Separators Work
The mechanism behind toe spacers is simple. These devices align your toes to an ergonomic position to reduce stress and provide a gentle stretch to the hardworking muscles in this area. With regular use, toe separators boost the flexibility of your muscles and tendons, which can keep your feet from developing painful cramps.
Spacers can also help correct gait issues that lead to discomfort over time. While limited toe flexibility might seem like a minor inconvenience, it can actually change the way you walk. Eventually, the unnatural gait can cause pain in the legs, hips, knees and lower back thanks to added stress on your joints.
A 2018 study published by the Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association found that using toe separators and doing stretching exercises for three months reduced pain and improved flexibility and range of motion for women with bunion discomfort. This confirmed earlier research findings published in Prosthetics and Orthotics International. In that study, toe spacers decreased bunion pain when combined with night splinting.
Types of Toe Separators
Toe spacers for foot pain look just like the ones you get at the salon. Instead of flimsy foam construction, however, these separators are made of sturdier rubber, silicone or plastic. Medical-grade silicone gel toe spacers are comfortable, long-lasting and easy to clean. Look for designs with added padding, especially if you have a painful condition like calluses or bunions.
You can choose from various colors and styles, but whether you pick purple or polka-dotted spacers, they must fit your feet correctly for effective pain relief. Select a pair that corresponds correctly with your shoe size. Additions like magnets, moisturizing infusions and aromatherapy scents are fun features but they don't have a proven impact on pain.
Full-toe separators cover the entire foot, but you can also find double-toe and triple-toe versions to separate either two or three toes only. Some styles are designed solely for wear while you're lounging on the couch, while others can be worn while walking and even add more stability to your stride if you need it. You can even purchase toe separators specifically for workouts.
Who Should Try Toe Separators
You might benefit from toe separators if you're a fan of fabulous shoes that force your feet into uncomfortable positions and leave you sore. Toe spacers can also work wonders for hikers, runners, dancers and people who spend a lot of time on their feet at work. I know my nurse friends swear by separators to soothe stiffness after a long shift.
You can also try spaces for relief from pain caused by bunions and hammertoes. In fact, some types of toe separators can even slow bunion growth.
At less than $25 per pair, toe spacers could provide affordable relief from foot pain. You might need to try them for just a few minutes at a time until you get used to the feeling of having your toes separated. For best results, work your way up to regular use.
Make an appointment with your foot doctor if you experience swelling, redness or discomfort that lasts longer than a few weeks or gets worse even with self-care at home. In this case, you may need treatment for an underlying condition such as bone spurs or osteoarthritis.