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Should Runners Be Wearing Toe Separators

“Should runners be what?” you ask.

One of the great pleasures – and challenged – of running is that there is always something else to do, to try, to think about. Whether it’s training, recovery, nutrition, or gear, we runners are always looking for one more advantage. And now, it has come to this: are you taking enough care of your toes? If you’re like me, you’ve never once thought about wearing toe separators while running until you heard somebody talk about it. I think of toe separators as what I wear after getting a pedicure! 

Although it might sound odd, you might want to consider wearing them running, or post-run, to help relieve pressure on your toes. So, the next time you get a pedicure done, keep the toe separator! And guys, steal your partner’s toe separators! Use them for running or recovery. They just might be that one more thing that gives you an advantage.

What are Toe Separators?

As the name implies, toe separators separate your toes. Typically, people (mostly women) think of using them if they are painting their toenails. They help to keep the toes separate so that you don’t get nail polish all over them.

But you can use them for other reasons. As runners, we all know that running is hard on the feet. But even when you’re not running, you still might be harming your feet and toes. 

For example, if you have a habit of wearing shoes that are a little bit too small for you, your toes will be shoved together. Over time, this can change the form of your feet. Toe separators are a way to help solve this problem.

Nowadays, you don’t have to wear a one-size-fits-all toe separator. There are plenty of options out there made in different sizes as well as different materials like cotton, gel, and moleskin.

Some runners like the medical-grade gel separators because they are thin but not flimsy, and can be quickly cleaned with soap and water. You can even find toe separators that are designed to look like socks if that’s something that is important to you.

How Big are Toe Separators?

Are you thinking about the bulky foam toe separators that you get after a pedicure? You might be wondering how exactly you’re going to get that into a running shoe. I hear you! Fortunately, there are a number of thinner and smaller options out there.

Can You Wear Them in Shoes?

The short answer is yes! The top toe separators out there specifically designed to be worn in shoes. And if you want to ensure that you aren’t fiddling with a toe separator that has snapped out of place in the bottom of your shoe, get toe separators that look like socks. Of course, one reason to wear toe separators is to counteract the effects of narrow shoes. So when you are wearing separators, a wider toe box will be needed.

Can They Be Worn Running?

Yes, you can wear toe separators running, although this all depends on personal preference. You might want to consider purchasing toe separators that are made of medical-grade silicone and designed for athletes. Or, purchase toe separator socks. These are likely going to be more comfortable.

Is It Better to Wear Them During Your Run or Post-Run?

It all depends on the person. If you’ve been having a lot of problems with your toes (like degenerative changes in your feet or toes), you might really benefit from toe separators. Make sure, though, that wearing toe separators while running isn’t negatively impacting your foot strike biomechanics.

I’ve personally always found toe separators a bit uncomfortable, and I can’t imagine running with them. People like me should wear toe separators post-run, and maybe even before you go to bed, to help relieve pain in your toes.

However, it’s important to remember that if the pain doesn’t go away, you should see a doctor. If you’re dealing with an injury, a toe separator isn’t going to be able to help. 

You’ll also want to keep in mind that while toe separators might help, like all things in life, they aren’t the end-all, be-all. They could help a lot, but won’t cure 100% of potential foot injuries.

What are the Benefits of Wearing Toe Separators? 

Toe separators have three major benefits. If you’re using them when it’s cold and wet outside, they will also give you an extra layer, which should help to keep your toes and feet warmer.

And remember: we aren’t talking a lot of money here to purchase toe separators. You can get a good pair for under $10. Sure, there are more expensive options, but there are a lot of reasonably priced ones out there. 

It’s definitely worth the money to help make your toes stronger, your feet stronger, and your overall body stronger. You can likely do all of this just by spending a little bit of money on toe separators and teaching yourself to wear them, working up to longer periods of time.

Relieve Pressure Off Toes

If you think about their basic design, toe separators are created to spread the toes out and help to relieve pressure. Toe separators are designed to put the toes where they should be naturally. Tight shoes might have changed where you toes normally sit.

By relieving pressures off your toes, you’ll get extra support as you walk. I’m sure most of us ladies are used to walking on the balls of our feet with toe separators to avoid messing up the nail polish.

Help to Prevent Foot Injuries

Additionally, what is even more helpful is that toe separators can provide an extra line of defense against foot injuries. If you tend to suffer from bunions, crooked toes, or hammer toes, separators will help you out.

More importantly – especially for runners – toe separators can help to prevent plantar fasciitis. This injury is caused by damaging the thin band of tissue that connects the heel bone and toes. If you have excruciating heel pain, you might have plantar fasciitis.

There’s a reason toe separators help. When your toes are spread apart more, the plantar fascia area receives greater blood flow. Healing happens more quickly with increased blood flow. 

Additionally, you can help prevent the dreaded runner’s knee by keeping your toes splayed farther apart. It helps build greater ankle stability.

Help Keep Toes Aligned and Help the Rest of the Foot

Although it might surprise you, the toes play a huge role in the entire foot. If they are aligned like they should be, you might find yourself with damage to the balls of your feet, which can lead to neuromas, sesamoiditis, and capsulitis.

Toe separators can help to prevent these conditions, which can cause damage to your joints, nerves, and tendons. It’s about putting yourself on the right foot (literally!).

Neuromas

Toe separators can help prevent a neuroma, or a pinched nerve between your third and fourth toe, from developing.

If they do develop, though, you’ll need to stop walking and running and massage the area. Not something a runner wants to have to deal with on a regular basis. Best to get a toe separator.

Sesamoiditis

Sesamoiditis occurs when your big toe is shoved against your second, which pushes the two small bones underneath your big toe (sesamoids) out of place. You’ll definitely feel some inflammation, and, if you don’t do anything, you can break the bones completely.

By keeping your toes properly aligned and splayed, toe separators can help put your big toe where it should be—away from your second toe!

Capsulitis 

Finally, toe separators can help you if you’re suffering from capsulitis (or help to prevent it). If your toes are in a weird or unnatural position, capsulitis can occur. This is most common with shoes that have a tight toe box, or high heels.

If too much weight is placed on the balls of your feet, you might experience inflammation in your second toe. If it gets bad enough, you could potentially see nerve damage. Another way you can reach this point is if you have tight calf muscles or unstable foot arches.

Toe separators help to make your toes (and therefore your feet) more balanced by giving your toes and feet the support they need.

Teaches You to Recover

One runner tried a particular type of jelly toe separators that she kept hearing about. According to the company, these toe separators would help improve circulation to the feet. She was a little skeptical, but decided to give them a try.

After using them just once, she was hooked. Her toes were splayed and felt relaxed. She began to wear them after every hard run and could notice a difference in her feet. But most importantly, she noted that it helped her get into the habit of recovery that had been hard to get into a routine for before.

So, if you’ve struggled to work recovery into your running routine, toe separators might be exactly what you need to get into that routine.

In the end, definitely consider wearing toe separators. They won’t solve all your problems, but there’s a good chance that your feet will feel a lot better whether you wear them for running, recovery, or both!

Rachel Basinger
The Wired Runner
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