Zero foot splay - can it be stretched out and/or re-educated?

I tried looking for some answers on this, but searching the forum and my google-fu has failed didn't turn up anything worthwhile.

My toes have always been quite scrunched up, and I've never had the ability to splay my toes out - I just can't make my toes do it at all.  I bought some VFF's in January but for various reasons I don't get to wear them much (work, injuries), but they've always been hard to get into, especially my stubby curled up pinkie toe.  I've been in Merrell Trail Gloves for the last 6 months as my only shoe and despite the extra room in the toebox there's been no difference whatsoever.

In the event I actually manage to fix my ITBS (and now PFS) I'd like to run barefoot/VFFs so while I'm doing nothing I figured now would be a good time to try and build some good foundations.  I've been doing ankle Theraband exercises and have just started using a lacrosse ball to roll my sole on, and I'll starting doing some of the recommended VFF exercises.  The foot splay part....I just can't do.  Is it worth trying to stretch them out (e.g. with one of those foam nail varnish things) so I can attempt to teach the muscles to splay properly?  Or am I worrying about nothing and should I just wait for it to happen as I put more miles in barefoot/VFFs?



  • My toes were all bunched up because I used pointy men's dress shoes for almost two decades.  For me, it took almost a year of using VFFs and wide toe box shoes before my toes started to spread out a bit.  My pinky toes though still don't want to spread out to the side.  It was those toes that were most uncomfortable in VFFs for the first several months.  Though back then, VFFs were the only alternative to minimalist shoes.  It might take a few more months for it to happen, or it may not happen at all.

    One exercise I do recommend is to pick up things with your toes, like golf balls and try to work your way up to tennis balls.  It helps exercise the toes and your foot muscles.
  • They do spread a bit in time, don't worry. Though the smallest two or three toes may not quite so much - mine are still a bit curled in, it's just the lifelong result of wearing shoes I'm afraid.  :-\

    You can definitely help them along by wearing toe socks inside your regular shoes. If you've never worn toe socks before, you feel them a lot at first, (they may even annoy you!) but when I wear them now I completely don't notice I have them on.

    I have some thicker Toetoe socks which obviously spread the toes more than my Injinji socks, because of the thicker material. I quite often wear them inside my Vivobarefoot shoes.

    Another thing you can do frequently - though probably not at first - is interlace your fingers on one hand through the underside of your toes on the opposite foot and hold for a while, like a minute or two. If your toes are bunched tight together naturally this could hurt as the muscles etc. pull, so only do as much as you feel okay with. You might only be able to get a few fingertips in between some of the toes at first, but like any muscle stretch it'll improve in time.

    Mine will still ache a bit now, but after some seconds that goes away and I keep them spread for a few minutes, I can interlace right down to the base of my fingers now. :)

  • Thanks for the responses.  I guess I'll just have to be patient!  Interesting idea about wearing toe socks to help with the splay.  I used to wear toesocks + thin socks for avoiding blisters in super sweaty conditions with regular running shoes but I didn't think to try them now.  Maybe worth a shot.

  • Check out Dr. Stoxen's videos here;

    Particularly #s 70-89.  I think you'll find some good information there.
  • Toe socks is all I can say. I couldn't really get my feet in my VFF's back when I first got them, at least not without wearing toe socks. A lot easier to get your toes into toe sock toe pockets than shoe toe pockets.

    That said I haven't had any real transition issues despite doing it like a noob(I haven't looked up/done anything/exercises/etc). Just put them on and go. That said I also don't run much. Maybe a short jog here and there or a sprint to react to something going boom at work/home/etc. But long runs I don't do. If I get to doing that I'll probably have to look up building endurance in those muscle groups before going out lest I hurt myself.

    Good luck whatever you do! Whenever I read posts like this I feel real thankful that I could just put on and go! Though I needed and still need toe socks for a good fit(now though it is the opposite, my second toe in particular apparently splays so wide it ends up in the wrong pocket unless I 'restrain' it with a sock).

    I have not tried these myself, but others have commented on this forum that they work well.
  • I definitely have to work my pinky toe in. I have to reach into the shoe and put my pinky toe in the sleeve and push the fabric between the pinky toe and the next smallest toe. Its getting easier and easier th emore I wear them - Its only been a few weeks so I don't believe my pinky toe is spreading out that quick, but I am getting better at it.

    I would also think wearing the toe socks w/ your Merrells would help . I have been thinking of this myself and considering some of the trendy girls toe-socks I see in Target to wear with my regular shoes to help keep my toes slightly separated.
  • Orthofeet have got me walking straighter and for longer hikes in our bosque woods … I’ve actually lost 5 pounds since getting them as I can walk without any pain at all. And I just got a compliment from a young man at the Apple Store the other day … diggin’ the style of the shoes. I’ve also purchased a pair of othofeet … and they are one fine, comfy pair of shoes to wear as my in the house shoes. The shoes are pure walk-gliding comfort and I’m so pleased with them. Thanks !!!
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