MEGAN FLYNN, PT & DPT.
One could argue that our feet take the brunt of the beating and are considered one of the more vulnerable areas of the body while running. Every day we squeeze our feet into different types of shoes (sneakers, boots, flats, dress shoes, etc.) which can have a negative effect on the overall health of our feet. Some shoes may cause the toes to be pressed together resulting in poor alignment and ultimately changing the natural form of your feet. When this happens, your feet are at an increased risk for many injuries including neuromas, sesamoiditis, capsulitis, and plantar fasciitis… to name a few.
One way to combat the harmful effects of shoes on our feet is by using toe spacers to release pressure and essentially re-align the toes to their natural position. 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 spacers 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. Therefore, wearing toe spacers after a hard or long run will be beneficial in recovery. They can be worn walking around your home or even inside your shoes. There are even toe spacer socks made specifically to take the pressure off your toes while running!
Toe spacers can prevent the common foot injuries as listed above. Neuromas are caused by pressure between the toes resulting in a pinched nerve – commonly between the third and fourth metatarsal. Sesamoiditis is inflammation of the tiny bones under your big toe which can be worsened by shoe toe boxes pushing the first toe into the second toe. This causes the sesamoid bones to be displaced and results in damage to the surrounding cartilage. Capsulitis is inflammation of the joints which occurs when your toes are in an unnatural position. Toe spacers help prevent and heal plantar fasciitis as well by taking pressure off the toes and surrounding joints and increasing blood flow to the area.
In addition to toe spacers, you can add exercises that are specific for the intrinsic muscles in the foot and ankle responsible for stabilization. Consult your physical therapist or a clinician for specific exercises for you!