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When I first saw runners on Instagram wearing what looked like pedicure toe separators, I was skeptical to say the least. There are a lot of gimmicky fitness products out there, yet people were talking up these things called YogaToes.
Not wanting to immediately discount them, I decided to look into them further so I could figure out what all these runners were talking about and whether it was worth the rave reviews. (Or if it was merely just the latest influencer product of the month.)
So What Are Toe Separators, Anyways?
Every day, you put tremendous pressure on our feet, whether you are a dedicated runner or not. The health of your feet depends on several factors, including your anatomy but also your shoe choices. If your shoes are too narrow, your toes can become misaligned. Over time, this can change your feet’s natural shape, and you may develop injuries.
Toe separators, sometimes also referred to as toe stretchers or toe spreaders, are simple devices designed to relieve pressure on your feet and improve your toes’ natural alignment.
Toe spacers can be made with different materials such as gel, moleskin, cotton, and foam, and vary in thickness depending on what your foot needs. Toe separators like YogaToes work by going between your toes to separate them and create more space between the joints. Separating your toes not only helps stretch the surrounding structures but also allows for increased blood flow to the area, leading to improved recovery and healing. (Hence why so many runners I saw on social media were showing their glorified pedicure separators off after their long and hard runs each week.)
A bit of a side note from experts: In addition to toe spacers, you can add exercises that are specific for the intrinsic muscles in the foot and ankle responsible for stabilization.
What Are the Benefits of Toe Separators?
There are a number of benefits to wearing products like YogaToes and other separators, but here are a few of the biggest ones that impact runners:
- Relieve Pressure: As runners, we all know that it’s not exactly an activity that’s easy on the feet. Combine that with our out-of-running habits (like wearing thin and flimsy flip flops, or cramming our feet into tight high heels) can create extra stress on our feet. Over time, these factors can actually change the way our feet are at rest, causing them to be more tense. Toe separators are a way to help solve this problem.
- Prevent Foot Injuries: Toe separators can provide an extra line of defense against foot injuries like bunions and hammer toes, but more importantly they may be able to help prevent plantar fasciitis. This common running injury is caused by damaging the thin band of tissue that connects the heel bone and toes. Toe separators like YogaToes help by keeping your toes spread apart more often, which helps boost the blood flow in the area of the plantar fascia, which can increase healing.
- Create Better Alignment: Your toes play a huge role in the health of your whole foot, and really your entire kinetic chain. By keeping your toes splayed more frequently, toe separators can help reduce the risk of painful conditions such as neuromas, sesamoiditis, and capsulitis. Toe separators like Yoga Toes can help prevent the dreaded runner’s knee and build greater ankle stability.
RELATED: How to Prevent and Fix Foot Pain
My YogaToes Review
Now there are plenty of brands out there that offer various types of toe separators, but the ones that kept popping up over and over again in my social media feeds were YogaToes—so those are the ones I chose to view.
The company’s website claims they are a “simple, one-step way to soothe achy feet and fit foot problems, including bunions and plantar fasciitis.” They’re designed to fit between and beneath your toes, gently spreading them apart and away from the balls of your feet. The company claims that these simple jelly separators help bring circulation to your feet. After wearing them regularly, the joints in your toes should begin to relax and realign, and the surrounding tissue become more supple and strong.
So I ordered a pair of the YogaToes Gems ($36.95, yogatoes.com) while beginning my training block for the 2019 Tokyo Marathon. I put them on one evening after a short run after work. The instructions said to “build up” first by only wearing them for 10–15 minutes at a time. I sort of laughed that off; surely I’d be able to wear them as long as I want.
Wrong. So wrong. My feet were cramping up after just a few minutes. I barely made it to 15 minutes, feeling constant discomfort; my right foot was cramping at the arch. But after I took them off—I looked down and my toes were more splayed out than I had seen them look in I can’t tell you how long. They felt relaxed.
I started using them pretty religiously. After a long day in uncomfortable shoes or a hard run, I’d come home, roll out my feet a little with a lacrosse ball, then hop into bed or onto the couch and put on my YogaToes. After a few months of consistent use, I definitely noticed a difference. I could wear them for 30 minutes to an hour at a time without cramps or discomfort. My feet felt less tense overall, especially the balls of my feet and my arches.
More than anything, it did instill a simple habit of recovery and downtime that I had not put into my training before. We don’t give our feet a ton of thought, but we should. They are, after all, the foundation from which the rest of our strength stems. I don’t know that YogaToes are some unlike-anything-else miracle product, but they definitely made an impact on my training and have become a part of my day that I look forward to.