Everything you didn't know you needed to know about toe spacers! What do they do, who they're for, and why we recommend Correct Toes in particular.
What are toe spacers?
Toe spacers are a tool that creates space in between your toes, and there is a variety of options to choose from. People wear toe spacers for different reasons: for a feeling of stretch and relief at the end of the day, to practice spreading out their toes passively, and to work with various health challenges. The most common reason people wear toe spacers is to spread out or "splay" the toes after decades of wearing shoes with a pointy toe box shape, especially when bunion and/or bunionette patterns are present.
Do I need Correct Toes?
If you're wondering whether they could be helpful for the particular health challenge you're experiencing, you can search the Correct Toes website
for keywords like "bunion," "plantar fasciosis," "neuroma," etc. for more advice on the medical side of things. They host numerous resources from academic studies to articles written by medical health professionals and more, both directly related to their product and about health in general. They aim to empower you with knowledge and practices you can bring into your life, in addition to guidance on whether Correct Toes would be appropriate.
So do you need Correct Toes if you don't have any medical issues?
If you stand up and look at your feet, you can check in which direction your toes are pointing compared to the rest of your feet. If you look at feet belonging to people who have not worn constrictive footwear, either due to age, socioeconomic circumstances, or cultural norms, you'll see that their toes radiate out from their feet in fairly straight lines. Meanwhile, those of us who have worn constrictive footwear for decades often see that our toes start to resemble the shape of our shoes. If this is the case with you and you want to work on that, Correct Toes are a great tool for you.
In these two photos, the first demonstrates feet that are "shoe shaped"; compared to the lines on the hardwood floor you can tell that the big toes especially are pointing towards the middle of each foot. The second photo demonstrates the way Correct Toes will spread out the toes to achieve a bit of space between each toe (the photo shows only wearing Correct Toes on one side for logistical reasons, most people wear them on both feet and they come as a pair).
Who should not wear Correct Toes?
According to Correct Toes' website, anyone with diabetes or diminished sensation in the feet should avoid using Correct Toes. Also, anyone with diminished circulation (peripheral arterial disease or “PAD”) should not use Correct Toes.
How do they work?
Correct Toes slide over your middle three toes, spreading out your toes into a neutral alignment. They do not stretch your toes out to the maximum splay position. Splaying (or spreading) your toes to the limit of their range of motion isn't necessarily where you want your toes to be all the time. It's a position that's good to be able to do in a variety of situations such as when balancing, but you can think of it in a sense as the opposite* to the pointy shoe-like position: it's one end of a spectrum. Neutral is somewhere in the middle.
*That said, because we don't tend to get a lot of toe splay time, and it is probably a more needed evolutionary skill than being able to shove your feet into small spaces, it's not a direct comparison.
When you wear the Correct Toes during weight bearing activities regularly over a long period of time, your feet learn how to move through the neutral set up. They retrain your toes on moving during standing, walking, running, etc. The gentle feedback and repositioning Correct Toes provide isn't doing the work for you-- it's helping you do the work the right way.
And as they say in music lessons, "practice makes permanent": the day to day motions you do repeatedly like walking become patterns, in this case, your gait, and those patterns result in different experiences in your body. Not every health challenge we face is something we can change, but when it comes to movement there is a huge degree to which we can cultivate feeling good in our bodies over the long term.
There are a few ways to answer this. Firstly, the material they are made of is medical grade silicone, which is more expensive as a regulated material than the unlabeled materials of many no-name options. Secondly, they last a lot longer than our $15 option; whereas the cheap option usually lasts a couple months, Correct Toes usually last many years. There is also the research and development that went into creating them, along with years of medical training and expertise from the creator Dr. Ray McClanahan. And of course there are the resources you're getting along with your purchase: Correct Toes offers a wealth of support to help you get the most out of their products including shoe recommendations, modification info, educational writings on foot health, and tips on practices you can add to your foot health repertoire.
On our end, we have pricing agreements with all of our suppliers to keep our prices as close as possible to theirs given fluctuations in currency values. This means on most days it will be more cost effective for Canadians to buy their Correct Toes from us vs directly from Correct Toes due to shipping and duties, but walking into a store in the US or Canada should be about the same cost.
What's the difference between Correct Toes and other brands?
Other than the materials and durability mentioned above (and the fact that you can customize them for your unique feet), the big difference is where your toes are when wearing Correct Toes versus another brand, and how that changes the function of the device. Let me explain: Correct Toes place your toes into a neutral alignment, so that the toes radiate outwards from the bones in the foot in a straight line. This allows your feet to relearn all kinds of movement through that alignment, without you having to put constant thought and effort into it. Correct Toes are designed to fit into shoes, to be worn up to all day (though there is a progression), and to be worn during weight bearing, active time.
So far, alternatives we've seen are designed to be used during rest, and to spread your toes out way further than the Correct Toes do. This maximum spread out position can provide a feeling of stretch or relief during rest, but it isn't something that can train your body to move more sustainably, to move in ways that support more movement and more variety of movement into your old age. So the main difference would be that they have a different function to similar looking devices, based on where they put the toes and other more subtle aspects of their design.
This photo from Anya's Reviews (linked at the bottom of this blog post) clearly demonstrates the difference between the way Correct Toes align the toes (left) vs a different brand (right). Correct Toes helps each toe radiate outward in a fairly straight line from the foot, while the other brand pushes some of her toes out past the neutral point into a wider splay.
The sizing chart Correct Toes provides based on shoe size has a pretty high accuracy rate. Use it based on your "normal" shoe size, rather than based on minimal shoe brand sizing. If you're in between sizes, choose the larger size if you have wide feet, and the smaller size if you have average or narrow feet.
When the Correct Toes arrive and you're trying them on, you are welcome to send us a photo for our feedback on the size and whether modifications would be helpful. We base any such advice on our own experience, Correct Toes hasn't specifically trained us in this outside of the free info they provide to everyone. You can contact them for advice as well. If you do want to send a photo, we recommend a bird's eye perspective (top down). Your feet are different when they are weight bearing so ensure you take the photo standing up.
For sizing, look for whether the Correct Toes wrinkle and bunch up a lot if you squeeze your toes together- this could indicate that they are too big. Many customers ask for a bigger size to get more splay when they are in the correct size, as you can achieve more splay if needed to get to neutral using modifications. The different sizes are more for different sizes of feet than different amounts of splay.
How do I know if I should modify them?
Again, you can send us a photo and we'll try to help you out, as this can be extremely individual. We recommend trying them unmodified as you get used to them first though, see below for more info on that. Some of the modifications, like trimming the pinky toe side of the Correct Toes if it's pushing your pinky toe out too far, make it easier to get used to wearing the Correct Toes. Some of them, like adding a shim which increases toe splay, are good to work up to.
How long should I wear them for?
You want to transition into a longer wear time with Correct Toes the same way you would with minimal shoes (or orthotics if you ever wore those). You can either choose an arbitrary but short duration such as half an hour, and start wearing them a half hour every day until that feels really comfortable, and then increase gradually from there, or you can try a duration test. A duration test is where you wear them for as long as you can before you notice the first sign of discomfort. Then you make a note of that duration, say three hours. Shave a little time off, and start with that amount every day, say two and a half hours. In either case, increase daily wear time gradually as the wear time feels easier over a few weeks or months.
Usually the first sign of discomfort either comes from the skin, which isn't used to the kind of feedback you get from having something between your toes, or from muscle cramping or tiredness/soreness. Do not push past discomfort, as this can lead to overdoing it, which makes you less likely to want to wear them in the future and could also result in pain. It's analogous to learning a new workout routine, but for tiny little muscles in your feet that may not have attempted anything like this for decades. Go easy on them!
If skin irritation is your only bottleneck or you have thin toes, you may find that wearing toe socks underneath helps. Wearing normal shaped socks over top can also help with slipping. If you notice the "pillar" between the big toe and second toe slipping up, Correct Toes suggests using a bit of velcro through the slot and around your big toe to keep it in place, but you can also use your other foot to push it back in. This may happen less if you wear them in shoes since there's nowhere for it to go.
How long does it take overall?
Some people wear the Correct Toes for a period of time and then stop. Others continue to wear them for years. It can be very personal. Most of the people I"ve talked to at the store who wear them everyday and are relatively active see changes within a year. I highly recommend taking a before and after photo, as the change can be so gradual that you might be surprised at how far you've come. On the other hand, you might not notice a lot of visual differences, but you may notice a difference in functionality, which is awesome!
How do you make the most of Correct Toes?
Correct Toes work best when you use them every day, combined with shoes that are wide enough to wear them in, lots of walking and other active or just weight bearing time, and foot exercises like those designed for people who are transitioning to minimal shoes.
You can do some of all of these things, and it may not all be at the same time. If you're curious about resources, check out our blog post on Arches
for the link list at the end including movement educators and foot friendly health specialists, as well as the Correct Toes website
and recommended shoe list
, or let us know if you have a more specific question! If we can't answer it we'll try to connect you with someone who can. We also highly recommend Katy Bowman's books
for the kind of exercises that can amplify the effects of Correct Toes
(and vice versa).
If you're still deciding and want to continue your research, check out these write ups from some highly respected voices in our community.
Petra is a well regarded teacher of Katy Bowman's work in addition to other foot health and general mobility-focused modalities such as CARS. Here she covers several types of toe spacers including notes on function and durability.
Anya is one of the go-to resources for the minimal shoe community for education on what kind of feet you have and how to shop for them as well as reviews of a vast number of minimal brands, and has recently launched a shop making it easier for those in America to access European brands.
Natural Foot Gear is a shop focusing on foot friendly tools for a movement rich life, and their write up goes into a few aspects not mentioned here and vice versa. They also sell Correct Toes, so like us they are not unbiased, but they do a good job of explaining why they love this brand so much.
Wendy is another huge reviewer and educator in the minimal shoe world, whose website helps people find a good minimal shoe match for their needs. We especially appreciate her perspective on styling minimal shoes for larger bodies, and her take as a mom on minimal shoes for kids.