Most people who are serious about exercise have already begun to incorporate some sort of stretching into their workout routines. Even a quick hamstring stretch before and after a run can go a long way towards preventing injury, and most people accept this fact.
Where the stretching story struggles, however, is when it gets to your lower extremities: more specifically, when it comes to your toes.
That’s right, toe stretching is a real thing! Here’s why it’s an absolute must:
Why Toe’s Need Stretching
Have you ever noticed that your toes turn up, without any effort on your part, as soon as you take off your shoes? The reason why is usually tightness in the toes: you may even be able to see your tight toe tendons pulling back on your little piggies. Tightness in your toes can also cause your toes to deform, shifting outward or even crunching up permanently (hammertoes.)
Common Causes of Tightness and Toe Deformities
- Wearing Shoes: Tight shoes scrunch or move or toes into unnatural positions. High heels, can push the toes upward into a bent shape. If toes stay in these unnatural positions for too long, the muscles tighten and lock up the toes in that shape: overtime, without intervention, they stop returning to their normal lengths and shapes.
- Walking Styles: Many people simply clomp down their feet with each step instead of working the muscles that should be involved, working to pull the toes and forefoot downward during the weight-bearing phase of your stride. When these muscles aren’t properly engaged, the toes get a stetch upwards, but never receive the counter-balancing downward stretch, leaving some tendons tight and overworked.
- Turn Out: When you walk, your toes are supposed to face forward, but not everyone has proper positioning. If your feet turn out when you walk, the bottom of your foot doesn’t absorb the force of your “push off”—the side of your big toe does, instead. That force can cause your big toe to drift in towards its neighbors, over time—and, if toes aren’t stretched to counterbalance this effect, the big one may not return to its normal spot without medical intervention.
How to Stretch Your Toes
Lateral toe stretching is a common yoga practice that can also be accomplished with toe spreading devices. Here are three surprising benefits of this practice:
1. Reduced foot pain
Stretching your toes elongates and relaxes the muscles, preventing painful spasms and contractions. When combined with toe strengthening exercises, stretches can also help prevent overuse or repetitive stress injuries, which are also very painful.
While toe-stretching can not heal either of these conditions, they can help remove some of the exacerbating factors, like pressure and abnormally aligned body parts, meaning they may ease the progression of both conditions.
3. Morton’s Neuroma
Toe-stretching also can help ease pain from Morton’s neuroma, since the painful nerve irritation is aggravated when toes and feet are compressed into tight and/or pointy shoes.
While you can always take the lazy way out and use a store-bought toe-stretcher, I recommend trying these exercises from Healthline.com before you take out your wallet:
· Take your toes in your hands and bend them all downward, to stretch the top of your foot.
· Take your toes in your hands and bend them all upward, enough to feel a nice stretch in the bottom of your foot, not just the toes.
· Pull each toe apart from the next.
· Pull the little and big toes away from each other at once, restoring healthy width to the front of the foot.
· Pull any toes that are bent-up until they are back downward. Pull bent-down areas gently straight, and pull curled toes straight out to restore straight length.