Those who get regular pedicures will be familiar with toe spacers: plastic or foam pads that sit between your toes to prevent nail polish from running.
But Dr. Aaron Horschig, a Missouri-based physical therapist, author and strength coach, has revealed that the tool has another little-known use.
He says they can also be useful in preventing and treating unsightly bunions.
About a third of Americans have bunions, a bony protrusion that forms at the joint at the base of the big toe as a result of excessive compression of the bones of the foot.
The problem, which can result from wearing tight shoes, can cause bone deformity, pain and stiffness, and there are limited treatments.
Surgery is performed in extreme cases, which carries risks of infection and requires weeks of recovery.
But toe spacers, which cost less than $10 in Amazoncan prevent the problem from occurring and even treat it, according to Dr. Horschig.
“I’m a big fan of using toe spacers, like Correct Toes, which, like dental braces, help realign your toes with the metatarsals of your foot,” he said in a video posted to his TikTok channel.
The metatarsals are the long bones at the front of the feet that are located just below the toes.
Bunions, where the bones of the foot shift to cause a bulge near the bottom of the toe, affect one in three Americans at some point in their lives. There are few treatment options other than surgery.
According Dr. HorschigToe spacers can “de-angle” an existing bunion, in addition to relieving pain.
This is because, over time, they widen the top of the foot, forcing the bones to return to their normal position.
The claim appears to be supported by some research.
Toe spacers are used during pedicures to prevent polish from running, but experts say they also have a medical purpose.
A 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association found that using toe spacers for eight months reduced pain and increased flexibility in women with moderate bunions.
Dr. Hoschig offers another tip to help your foot shape return to normal.
“Simply getting shoes with a wider toe box that helps the toes spread again can cause the reverse negative reaction,” he says.
“We wear shoes that are too narrow and over time our foot adapts to the shape of the shoe.”
Other experts recommend choosing shoes with a wide toe box (no pointed toes) and enough space between the tip of your longest toe and the end of the front of the shoe.