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Plantar fasciitis can be tricky and complex to treat, with different treatments working for different people.
One thing that’s not good for plantar fasciitis is cramped, weak, and inflexible feet.
Enter: toe spreaders. (No, not the awkward, uncomfortable pedicure kind.)
Can this small gadget help plantar fasciitis? Let’s find out.
PS – Don’t miss Surprising Reasons Why Your Plantar Fasciitis Isn’t Going Away for a deep dive into other areas of the body that can affect plantar fasciitis.
Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes and is not medical advice. Read the full disclaimer.
What is plantar fasciitis?
The plantar fascia is a thick band of connective tissue that runs along the foot’s arch to the heel bone. It functions to support the arch and transfer force through the foot and lower leg during movement.
Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the fascia at its insertion point on the heel that causes pain with weight-bearing and walking.
There’s also some newer evidence that chronic plantar fasciitis is related to decreased blood flow, which affects the body’s ability to get fresh blood carrying oxygen and other reparative cells to the area to initiate tissue healing.
This finding argues that chronic cases are less about inflammation and more about tissue degeneration, making the condition more multifactorial than initially thought.
Now that we’re all on the same page, back to toe spreaders.
What are toe spreaders?
Toe spreaders are made from silicone or gel-like material to help separate your toes to create space, stretch tissues and ligaments and relieve pressure from cramped footwear.
They slip over all of your toes, placing a gel toe separator in between each toe. They are different than a single toe spacer worn around one toe.
Benefits of toe spreaders
Toes function best when they’re mobile and spread out. The big toe plays a significant role in foot mechanics and balance.
Cramped toes can lead to pain and dysfunctional movement, not only in the foot and ankle but also further up the body. Gel toe separators can help stretch cramped tissues and relieve pressure.
Some other toe spacer benefits are:
- Improve toe flexibility, alignment, and range of motion
- Encourage the natural movement of the foot and ankle
- Improve natural arch support
- Improve blood flow to the plantar fascia
- Improve foot strength, especially the tiny intrinsic foot muscles
- Reduce pressure/friction between the toes
- Improve overall mobility and movement patterns
Toe spreaders can be used for general foot pain relief, bunion pain, plantar fasciitis, Morton’s neuroma, or improve alignment and foot strength.
Do toe spreaders help plantar fasciitis?
Correcting foot problems is sometimes easier said than done.
There’s plenty of research on the effectiveness of orthotics in plantar fasciitis treatment; however, I couldn’t find any studies that specifically address the use of toe spreaders for plantar fasciitis.
That being said, two significant issues that lead to plantar fasciitis pain are poor movement mechanics and decreased blood flow.
Toe spreaders, along with a comprehensive treatment plan, can help address these issues. They are inexpensive, so it might be worth trying to see if they work for you.
But please note that just wearing toe spacers for a few minutes a day won’t magically fix years of cramped footwear and neglect for general foot health.
Improving your foot flexibility and function will take a long time with some focused effort.
Without other stretching and strengthening exercises, toe spreaders probably won’t do much. Be sure to read Surprising Reasons Why Your Plantar Fasciitis Isn’t Going Away for more ideas to tackle the pain.
How long should you wear toe spreaders?
It depends on your feet and how large the spacers are.
Using Yoga Toes, you may be challenged to start with just five minutes a day, gradually working your way up for 20-30 minutes.
Yoga toes will give you a big stretch, but the downside is that you won’t be able to walk while wearing them (or at least walk normally).
If the spacers are smaller, like the Mind Bodhi brand, you may be able to tolerate more extended periods and may even be used during some workouts.
Smaller toe spacers may also be worn for yoga or other barefoot activities (walking around the house, yoga, pilates, or barre fitness) to improve the quality of movement and strengthen the intrinsic muscles of the feet.
When I got the Mind Bodhi toe spreaders, I was surprised at how comfortable they felt. I felt like I could really stretch my toes out and feel the floor.
Some runners even wearing small toe spreaders while running. If wearing toe spreaders inside your shoes, ensure the toe box is wide enough to avoid creating additional issues.
If you’re wearing toe spreaders during workouts, there may be some discomfort as your muscles and joints become accustomed to a new alignment. This is similar to when trying to wean onto orthotics. You’ll need to ease your way in.
Best toe separators for plantar fasciitis
Toe spreaders are available on Amazon and Walmart. You might even see them in stores such as Bed Bath & Beyond.
Yogabody natural toe spreaders are also another option.
Keeping your feet strong, flexible, and healthy is a significant piece of good movement and fording off annoying injuries like plantar fasciitis.
Toe spreaders are inexpensive and may add some additional value to your current rehab program or workout routine.
Have you tried toe spreaders?
Jacobs, J.L., Ridge, S.T., Bruening, D.A. et al. Passive hallux adduction decreases lateral plantar artery blood flow: a preliminary study of the potential influence of narrow toe box shoes. J Foot Ankle Res 12, 50 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13047-019-0361-y
Miller LE, Latt DL. Chronic Plantar Fasciitis is Mediated by Local Hemodynamics: Implications for Emerging Therapies. N Am J Med Sci. 2015;7(1):1-5. doi:10.4103/1947-2714.150080
Ying J, Xu Y, István B, Ren F. Adjusted Indirect and Mixed Comparisons of Conservative Treatments for Hallux Valgus: A Systematic Review and Network Meta-Analysis. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021;18(7):3841. Published 2021 Apr 6. doi:10.3390/ijerph18073841