If you suffer from plantar fasciitis, you are probably aware that there are a number of conservative measures that can be of help. For example, you can wear custom-fitted shoes, orthotic inserts and even podiatric-designed flip flops. However, you also have the possibility of using toe separators, which represent a must-have for anyone who is suffering from this condition.
In the following paragraphs, we will discuss about toe separators, their purpose and the different types that there are available at the moment.
What do we know about plantar fasciitis?
According to a study published online, on BMJ Clinical Evidence, plantar fasciitis is a condition characterized primarily by plantar heel pain. The authors of the study describe this pain as being severe enough to affect the overall functionality of the patient, leading to a poor quality of life on a long-term basis. People who are diagnosed with plantar fasciitis may experience a number of limitations whereas activities of daily living are concerned. At the same time, they might have a difficult time engaging in physical exercise or even working.
In another study, one that regarded the effect of foot orthoses as treatment of plantar fasciitis or heel pain, researchers highlight the fact that the pain associated with this condition can range from moderate to severe. It is often present in the proximal inferior region of the heel, being caused by repeated trauma at the level of plantar fascia. Basically, the main injury is located at the level of the medial calcaneal tubercle, where the plantar fascia inserts itself. Both excessive and repetitive traction are believed to be to blame for the heel pain and other manifestations of plantar fasciitis. The study was published online, in the Journal of Sport Rehabilitation.
For many years, scientists and researchers have tried to identify the risk factors that might trigger the appearance of plantar fasciitis. For example, a study published in The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, identified the risk factors of this condition as being: limited ankle dorsiflexion (with the knee extended), high BMI (obesity) and prolonged weight-bearing. The study concluded that all of these represent independent risk factors, with the limited ankle dorsiflexion being the one that bears most significance.
It is believed that the risk of plantar fasciitis increases as the range of ankle dorsiflexion is reduced. At the same time, those who engage in prolonged weight-bearing (occupational hazard) and individuals with high BMI present an increased risk for such conditions.
Before moving on to one of the solutions to the problem (toe separators), it is important to understand the connection between the limited ankle dorsiflexion and plantar fasciitis. Healthy individuals require approximately ten degrees of ankle dorsiflexion, in order to walk (knee extended). In the situation that an individual presents a shortened Achilles tendon, the range of ankle dorsiflexion is going to be reduced. As a compensatory measure, the excess pronation of the foot is going to occur. In time, this will increase the load on the plantar fascia, leading to pain and inflammation, hence plantar fasciitis.
What is the purpose of toe separators?
The main purpose of toe separators is to reduce and even eliminate the heel pain caused by plantar fasciitis. By wearing these toe separators, you will actually re-align the bones of your feet, bringing them into their natural position. Sure, you might experience a little bit of discomfort at first, as the separators will cause your toes to spread. After an entire life wearing only shoes, and probably the wrong ones, you can imagine how much your toes have suffered. Toe separators can solve such matters, improving the overall symptomatology of plantar fasciitis.
Is there more than one kind available on the market?
First and foremost, you have the toe spreading socks. These are similar to the regular socks, with the exception that the toes are forced to spread. As opposed to other toe separators, these socks only provide a mild toe stretch. They can be worn both during the day and night, being available in various sizes (from large to small).
The main benefit that these toe-spreading socks have to offer is comfort. They will do their job, while keeping your feet warm. It is clear that they are also more comfortable than yoga toes, not to mention dynamic toe separators. As they are less bulky, they present a reduced risk of friction or irritation. Many people use the toe-spreading socks at nighttime, as they are comfortable enough to sleep in. At the same time, they do not present the risk of falling off, regardless of how agitated a sleep a person might have. The one thing that you have to remember is that they do not provide too much of a stretch; depending on your symptomatology, you might also want to try yoga toes or dynamic toe separators.
Yoga toes represent the most popular toe separators, being especially recommended for those who suffer from plantar fasciitis. Unlike the above-mentioned socks, these provide a moderate toe stretch; they are recommended to be worn either while one is sitting or standing. They spread the toes quite nicely, however, they can only be used as specified above (cannot be worn under the socks or in shoes). They are generally made from high quality silicone, so you do not have to worry about allergies or irritations. If you are within a tight budget, you can also purchase economical toe separators; these are made from materials of lower quality but they provide good results nonetheless.
The main purpose of yoga toes is to separate the toes from one another, causing them to spread. Apart from having this effect, these yoga toes are capable of stretching the muscles in your legs. They can also extend the shortened Achilles tendon and improve the foot arch, thus eliminating the pain associated with plantar fasciitis. Worn on a regular basis, yoga toes can help re-align the feet.
These separators can be used to straighten your toes and increase the overall flexibility in the area. It is worth mentioning that they can also be used by those who have narrow feet or toes that are shorter in size. Because of their ergonomic design, they can significantly improve the pain caused by the inflamed plantar fascia. They can spread the toes in a gentle, yet firm manner, allowing the muscles of the leg to become more flexible and resilient at the same time.
Dynamic toe separators
These are more similar to a stretching device, being worn under the shoes. Given such possibilities, you will have to find and purchase shoes with adequate width (so that you can accommodate the dynamic toe separators and benefit from their work). It is important to understand that the stretching of the toes is gradual, with the results being noticeable in time. There is also the risk of the toes being stretched excessively, leading to discomfort and even pain. In order to reduce the risk of such problems, you have to adjust them on a regular basis.
Separators for weight-bearing activities
So far, you have heard about toe separators that are mostly recommended for sitting or standing. But what about weight-bearing activities? Well, you should be happy to know that there are special toe separators that you can use for such purposes. These can help bring the toes in their anatomical position, being however different from other products on the market.
The design of these separators is unique, so that they can be used during various weight-bearing activities. Like dynamic toe separators, they can be worn in shoes, requiring a larger width in order to be properly accommodated. You can also wear them under your socks or even with toe-spreading socks. In general, they are made from medical-grade silicone, being both comfortable and flexible to use. Given the quality material from which they are created, you do not have to worry about them not being long-lasting or preventing you from maintaining your balance.
How are toe separators actually used?
Even though some toe separators can be worn while standing or even walking, in general, it is for the best to wear them when you are relaxed and resting. For example, you can sit down and read a book or watch a movie; at first, it is recommended to wear the toe separators for a short period of time, such as ten or fifteen minutes. Remember, you need to allow your toes to adjust to the toe separators and this might take some time. It is for the best to increase the amount of time for which you are wearing the toe separators on a weekly basis, until you reach one hour per day.
Initially, many people are tempted to wear the toe separators for a prolonged period, not taking into account the need for adjustment. This can easily lead to cramps, the excess stretching of the toes being able to cause not only discomfort but also pain. What you want to do is allow your toes to slide into the separators; always begin with the big toe and continue with the rest. The separator should be at a close distance from the webbing, in order to do its magic.
The first time you will wear the toe separators, it is guaranteed you will experience some discomfort. In order to prevent this from happening, it is recommended to slide the toes gradually. Only after a couple of weeks, you should attempt to slide the toes all the way down. In this way, you will allow the toes to adjust to the toe separators, taking full advantage of their beneficial effect.