T4 Physio

Can Toe Separators Really Help Foot Pain?

Toe spacers stretch and separate your toes, promising to give relief from toe and foot pain. Here’s a look at when they might work and how to use them.


What are toe separators?

If you’ve ever googled toe or foot pain, there’s a good chance you’ve been inundated with ads for toe separators—foot devices that, well, separate your toes.

Sure, they may look a little silly. But how do they work, and can they actually help with toe or foot pain? First things first: You need to get an idea of what might be causing your pain.

What causes toe and foot pain?

Treating the pain without addressing the underlying condition won’t help and may cause more harm in the long run.

Common causes of toe and foot pain include bunions (painful, bony bumps at the base of the big toe) and hammertoes (a toe that’s stuck in a bent or curled position at the middle joint).

All types of arthritis—including osteoarthritis, inflammatory, rheumatoid, and gout—can cause pain and swelling in your toes.

Other toe and foot pain can be due to plantar warts, calluses, corns, or poorly fitting shoes.

Pain can be due to bony growths on your toes, heels, or ankles (called bone spurs) or from neuromas, which occurs when the tissue around one of the nerves leading to your toes becomes scarred or thickened.


Do toe separators really help?

These devices are designed to hold your toes in the “correct” position, which can help reduce pain, prevent ingrown toenails, and may help conditions that benefit from stretching, like hammertoes.

They can also help slow down the progression of some structural deformities, like bunions. What they won’t do, however, is correct the underlying structural problems causing the pain. They also won’t treat or mitigate underlying diseases, like arthritis.

Toe separators for bunions

Toe separators are commonly marketed specifically for use with bunions, and they might provide some benefit there.  Research suggests that the use of toe separators decreases the pain caused by bunions.

Researchers compared 30 women using toe separators alongside custom shoe insoles with 30 women using night splints, another commonly recommended treatment for bunions, and found that the toe separators gave a significant reduction in pain while the night splints made no difference.

Toe separators for gait problems

Certain toe spreaders may help correct gait problems by activating different muscles in the legs, according to a study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science.

The researchers asked 20 men to wear two different kinds of toe spreaders—one soft, one hard—and measured the activity in their lower leg muscles. They concluded that soft toe separators may help strengthen the supporting leg muscles, which could lead to decreased foot pain caused by walking incorrectly.

How to use toe separators

It can’t hurt to try toe separators, as they may provide some pain relief or other benefits,

If you want to try them, start by finding a style that you like, and be sure they fit comfortably. Wear them with bare feet (not in shoes), while you are lounging or sleeping. There are some types made specifically for walking but most aren’t.

Wear them as often and as long as you can tolerate them. Some people find them very uncomfortable or weird-feeling at first, but you get used to it over time.

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