If your little piggies are less “weeee” and more “ow-ow-ow” all the way home, you might be wondering how to give your toes a rest. After all, those little phalanxes have a big job to do.
The Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit, academic medical center. Advertising on our website supports our mission. We do not endorse any non-Cleveland Clinic product or service. politics
Your toes support your whole body and give you balance when standing, walking and running. So when your toes hurt from blisters, corns, calluses, bunions, crowding, or toe deformity, your whole body can become unbalanced.
You’ve probably heard that wearing proper footwear is the first step (pun intended) to happy, healthy feet. But…well…life happens, and you may have chosen your shoes for fashion over function (it happens). Or maybe you’ve suffered an injury like a broken toe. Or maybe you’re living with conditions like flat feet, rheumatoid arthritis, or other issues that affect your feet.
There are entire displays at your local drugstore devoted to devices that promise to protect your toes. Look it up at any online retailer and you will find pages and pages of results and reviews for devices claiming to cure your sore toes.
But what’s the deal with all the different types of toe spacers and toe separators? Are They The Panacea To Your Tootsie Problems?
We spoke to podiatrist Georgeanne Botek, DPM, about toe spacers and separators and what they can and can’t do for you.
What are toe separators and spacers?
There is a wide range of toe spacing and parting fixes. Some are similar to what you use between your toes during a pedicure – essentially a row of foam with cut-outs for your feet. Others look more like individual pillows placed between your toes. And then there are the others that wrap around every single toe.
And they come in different materials too – they can be made of felt, foam, silicone and other fabrics.
There’s enough choice to blow your mind.
dr Botek says choosing a toe spacer or toe separator comes down to comfort and the issue you are trying to fix.
“In general I like the silicone pads because they are spongy but hold their shape well. Most of the time, these are also reusable, so you don’t have to throw them away every time you use them,” says Dr. Botek. “I usually recommend an open toe pad as well. Anything that closes over your toes doesn’t let your toes breathe as much.”
If your toes are close together, the spacers you place between the toes can work well. But for people with more flexibility and movement in their toes, they can easily slip out of position and get bunched up in your socks. Nobody wants that.
Visiting a shoe store or speaking to a healthcare provider can help you understand your options and find the best solution for you.
The thing to remember is that most toe spacers will not undo any damage that has been done, notes Dr. Botek. The exception: A special device worn outside of your shoes while resting your feet. A common example is the Yoga Toes® brand.
“Toe spacers, meant to be worn in your shoes, are like glasses,” says Dr. Botek. “These devices work as long as they’re on, but they don’t fix a problem at the root. When you take off your glasses, your vision hasn’t changed. The same goes for toe separators and spacers. They will not permanently affect your feet.”
Benefits of toe spacers and separators
While they won’t permanently change your toes or heal bunions, spacers and separators can help give your piggy temporary relief and prevent some of the most common problems. dr Botek shares these three reasons to try spacers and separators.
1. Stretch out your toes
If you find your toes crowding, overlapping, or arching up (also known as hammer toes), or if you have bunions, you may consider toe spacers to give them some breathing room. Toes that have been curled in socks and shoes can benefit from a good stretch.
Again, spacers and separators you wear in your shoes will not provide lasting results (despite what their packaging claims). Talk to a healthcare provider about your options for permanent relief from these problems.
2. Reduce friction
Toe spacers and separators can be a good choice to avoid some of the most common (and annoying) concerns. Spacers can be used to prevent your toes from rubbing against your shoes. Repeated friction between your toes and your shoes can cause:
However, remember that adding spacers or separators can alter the fit of your shoes, especially if your shoes are narrow at the toe. So if you plan on wearing separators with your shoes, try on your shoes with the device on and take a good walk in those shoes to make sure you’re actually fixing the problem and not making it worse.
3. Add some padding
Yes, it is best to wear well-fitting, well-cushioned, low-heeled shoes. The whole time. But if you have one of those occasions where your shoes don’t quite live up to that standard, toe spacers can give you that extra bit of comfort.
Are toe spacers and separators safe?
dr Botek says toe spacers and separators can be used on many people without much risk, but that doesn’t mean they’re right for everyone. Talk to your doctor about your options if you:
- live with diabetes or diabetic foot complications.
- are living with neuropathy (numbness, tingling, muscle weakness and pain) in your feet.
- Frequent or repeated sores, blisters, or other problems with your feet.
Should I wear flip flops every day?
If you find that you need to pad your feet on a regular basis, you would likely benefit from speaking to a healthcare provider about other options, advises Dr. Botek.
“If you find you are in pain despite wearing adjustable pads or toe separators, you should probably get checked out. Or if it’s a problem that won’t go away, there may be other things that can and should be done,” adds Dr. Botek added.