PSA: Toe separators aren’t just for pedicures.
If there’s one part of our body we probably don’t pay much attention to, it’s our toes. But in fact, the way we use our feet may be impacting the rest of our bodies.
Physiotherapist and strength coach Aaron Horschig, aka @squatuniversity on TikTok, has racked up 1.3 million views for his video on toe separators, which he says are a great tool for mending the impact of that modern footwear has on our bodies.
“I’m a huge fan of toe spacers for a lot of people,” he says. “The vast majority of people are wearing shoes that are way too narrow for them, and the toes just get smashed together. You may not realize it, but your foot was meant to have toes spread out.”
“I wear toe spacers to allow my toes to spread back out into the shape they should be in,” he continues. “The foot doesn’t operate optimally when the big toe is smashed in, so toe spacers are like braces to your teeth—they teach your toes how to spread back out, and the foot to operate as optimally as possible.”
How do our feet—and toes—impact the rest of our bodies? Glamour spoke to posture expert Ellie Burt, or Posture Ellie, about why toe separators might just be your next favorite wellness tool.
How can our feet affect our overall posture and movement?
“Your feet are your foundations and without healthy mobility through each of the 33 joints in your feet, your body is negatively impacted,” says Ellie. “The toes are vitally important when it comes to whole body balance, proprioception, strength and mobility. Unlocking tension from the toes can be an absolute game changer in how the rest of the body operates and feels.
“Imagine if you couldn’t use your fingers/hands properly? Your body would have to come up with strange, compensatory movement patterns to create an alternative and the body would wind up confused and exhausted due to this unnatural, inefficient patterning. This is what is happening to lots of us everyday due to our feet.”
Does our footwear really impact our feet that much?
“Look at a baby’s foot. Admire the dexterity, the width and the active, spread little toes. What goes wrong with these perfect human shaped feet? Shoes.
“Due to modern footwear, many people have toes which are so stiff they are completely frozen together, overlapping and misshapen. We would probably have very different feelings about how healthy this was for us if it was our fingers that were permanently stuck together, overlapping and misshapen due to restrictive gloves which stopped our fingers from moving as designed. If we couldn’t use our hands properly we would probably try and do something about it but, for some reason, with our feet, we don’t and we think that bunions, pointed feet and crooked, frozen toes are normal. They aren’t.”
What are the benefits of toe separators?
“The reason I am such an advocate of toe separators is because for many people they are the only way to begin to restore function back to the toes. The reason that this is important is your toes being able to move is crucial if you want to move well and without pain. Lots of my clients are so dysfunctional within their feet and toes that they physically do not have the ability to move their feet or toes well enough to perform foot exercises at a high enough standard to achieve the intended outcome.
“Toe separators can passively start to de-thaw decades of stiffness without the person wearing them having to do much at all or having to have control over the dysfunctional muscles in their feet. They can be surprisingly tiring to wear even for an hour if your feet are really stiff! You’ll feel how this change in toe position starts to wake up the arches of the feet, the calves and even the glutes—it’s all connected!
“Toe separators are a very useful tool and can be an extremely important part of a whole body rehabilitation program but probably aren’t going to be life changing within themselves, they are part of a toolkit and an overall program to restore mobility to each joint in the body.”
If you’re reading this and thinking, ‘but if I wear these they won’t fit into my shoes?!’ then your shoes are too narrow and not human foot shaped, so you might want to consider wearing a barefoot shoe brand like Vivo Barefoot.
This article first appeared on Glamour UK.