By Donna Zamost, PTA
Even wide shoes tend to be too narrow in the toe box. Shoes need to be wide across the balls of the feet for a proper fit, but they also need to be wide across the toes. Shoes that have a narrow toe box will squish the toes together. Take your shoes off and notice that your toes are the same width as your metatarsal bones. (Or should be!) Therefore, doesn’t it make sense the toe box should also be as wide as the ball of your foot?
The natural spread of your toes is known as toe splay.
It is an important part of how a foot functions. Toe splay is necessary for ankle stability and arch support, as well as activation of the intrinsic foot muscles (muscles within the feet). Allowing the toes to maintain their natural spread promotes a good base of support. This not only helps with balance, but it helps to reduce stress at the front of the foot when pushing off during walking and running. In shoes with a tapered or narrow toe box, the big toe angles in and all the toes are squished together, reducing the base of support. Over time, this can cause painful issues, such as bunions, hammer toes and ingrown toenails.
After years of dancing in this type of shoe, when I would take my shoes off, my toes would stay squished together. Over time, this unnatural position of my toes led to bunions and arthritis. I even required surgery in one of my big toes to restore a normal range of motion and allow me to walk without pain. Understandably, I am now very careful with my choice of shoes.
If your toes feel a bit squished together, there are things you can do to help restore your natural toe splay: While sitting, cross your ankle onto your opposite thigh and interlace your fingers between your toes to help spread them out. You can use your fingers to help stretch the toes and then when comfortable, use your fingers to move your toes up and down and in circles.
Another great tool that is becoming popular is something called toe spacers. These are made of soft silicone and help to spread the toes apart, allowing them to go back into their proper alignment. Toe spacers are available on the internet. I have a pair from a company called Correct Toes and I often wear them around my house while bare foot. I’ll even wear them in my athletic shoes during my power walks. I can definitely feel the difference in my body when my toes and feet are in the correct alignment.
So, if you are guilty of wearing shoes that have reduced your proper toe splay, switch your shoes to a pair with a wider toe box and try the above suggestions. Or come see us at Connect PT. We’ll have you back on your toes in no time!