If you have spent much of your adult life wearing shoes, it’s unlikely that your feet are as strong and mobile as they were designed to be. Perhaps your toes are all scrunched together… or you can’t make your little toe move at all… Maybe you’ve got stiff inflexible forefeet or are starting to develop a bunion. Strength and mobility allow the foot to function at its best, particularly when you are running – and even more particularly if you’ve joined the barefoot movement. And without that, your balance, walking and running mechanics will be compromised. Spending more time barefoot is a good starting point in ‘reawakening’ the feet.
But you might also be interested in a toe-spacing product called Correct Toes. I first came across these when I was suffering with plantar fasciitis. They were incredibly useful in bringing my feet back to life. These silicone toe-spacers were designed by a US podiatrist (and former elite runner), Dr Ray McClanahan, who himself had suffered with PF and found that the usual treatments didn’t work, for him or his patients. With a belief that proper foot function was at the heart of ending foot problems, he designed a ‘toe spacer’ that puts each individual toe into its correct anatomical position (see pic, above). This improves your proprioception or ‘feel’ for the ground and helps reawaken those neural pathways – allowing mobility and strength to return. I’d previously tried a single toe separator, worn between the big toe and second toe – but it only served to scrunch my second toe up to my third one. Correct Toes gives each toe nowhere to hide – it simply has to toe the line! The instructions that come with the product recommend starting with short periods of use (half an hour to an hour at a time) – but I found that within a day or two, I could wear them all day and even sleep in them comfortably. The challenge is, of course, finding shoes that you can wear them with. Unsurprisingly, VIVOBAREFOOT shoes fit the bill, as do other wide-fitting shoes, like Crocs. And, if you don’t mind them being on show, they work with Birkenstock sandals, too. Or barefoot, of course. The fact is, if you can’t fit your toes into your shoes whilst wearing Correct Toes, you probably shouldn’t be wearing the shoes, because they aren’t allowing your foot to move naturally…
Through my online/mobile natural running store, The Emperor’s New Shoes, we now sell Correct Toes in the UK and also act as the UK distributor for interesting retailers/practitioners wanting to find out more about them.
Adding specific exercises to get the toes moving more independently is also helpful in maintaining or restoring good foot function. Try working on getting the big toe to stay in contact with the ground (as if you were pressing a drawing pin into the floor) while lifting the other toes. Then turning the four toes under – like a knuckle – while keeping the big toe extended, like a thumb. These exercises give you the sense that your toes – like fingers – should be able to flex and extend independently.