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!
Patient: 21-year-old female
Chief Complaint: Painful intercourse with first encounter
Past Medical/Surgical History: Crohn’s disease, managed with diet; removal of gallbladder 2 years ago
Physical Therapy Treatment: Posture education; breathing exercises; pelvic and hip stretches; manual therapy for pelvic floor and review of techniques with partner; progressive vaginal dilator stretching
Results: 0 pain with intercourse in 14 visits!
In 548 Dutch working women, almost half reported pelvic girdle pain at 12 weeks postpartum. Pregnancy-related predictors for pain included: history of low back pain, elevated somatization, 8 or more hours of sleep/rest per day, and uncomfortable postures at work. Pregnancy and postpartum-related predictors for pain included: disability and pelvic girdle pain at 6 weeks, elevated somatization, higher birth weight of the baby, uncomfortable postures at work, and number of days on bed rest. The authors discussed that a woman with PPGP should be cared for to prevent more serious postpartum disability (Stomp-van den Berg et al, 2012).
Another study looked at the type of delivery and pelvic girdle pain in 10,400 women with singleton pregnancies. A planned cesarean section was associated with 2-3x the rate of pelvic girdle pain at 6 months postpartum. The authors recommended vaginal birth for women with PPGP, unless there is a serious medical reason (Bjelland et al, 2013). In a study done by the same lead author, postpartum women had high recovery rates from pelvic girdle pain, but those who reported significant emotional stress during pregnancy had an independent correlation with continued pelvic girdle pain (Bjelland et al, 2013).
A final study looked at the relationship between exercise and PPGP. Pregnant women who exercised more than 2x per week reported a lower rate of pelvic girdle pain, and those who exercised 1-2x per week reported less low back pain and depression. The authors concluded that exercise during pregnancy could lower the risk for pelvic and low back pain (Gjestland et al, 2013).
Bjelland EK1, Stuge B, Engdahl B, Eberhard-Gran M. The effect of emotional distress on persistent pelvic girdle pain after delivery: a longitudinal population study. BJOG. 2013 Jan;120(1):32-40.
Bjelland EK1, Stuge B, Vangen S, Stray-Pedersen B, Eberhard-Gran M. Mode of delivery and persistence of pelvic girdle syndrome 6 months postpartum. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2013 Apr;208(4):298.e1-7.
Gjestland K1, Bø K, Owe KM, Eberhard-Gran M. Do pregnant women follow exercise guidelines? Prevalence data among 3482 women, and prediction of low-back pain, pelvic girdle pain and depression. Br J Sports Med. 2013 May;47(8):515-20.
Stomp-van den Berg SG1, Hendriksen IJ, Bruinvels DJ, Twisk JW, van Mechelen W, van Poppel MN. Predictors for postpartum pelvic girdle pain in working women: the Mom@Work cohort study. Pain. 2012 Dec;153(12):2370-9.