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5 Reasons to Put your Fingers Between your Toes

Written by: Lily Hoog-Fry and John Baker

If you’ve been following along, you now know more foot biomechanics than you ever thought you wanted to know, and you’ve probably switched to barefoot shoes (if not, don’t worry, we will keep trying). But is there more you could be doing to restore the wide, stable, and simultaneously mobile natural feet you had as a child? Why yes, I’m glad you asked.

You need to kick off your shoes and fling those socks across the room. Then you simply sit down and slide your fingers between your feet. You know you did it right if the palm of your hand is on the soles of your feet. Slowly wiggle and squeeze your fingers as deep as possible.

Now you may think, “what, no way, they don’t fit!” but let me tell you, they should and will. Like most rewarding things, this is not an instant cure but will yield fantastic results over time.

This simple act, albeit uncomfortable at first, is an excellent step toward healthier, better-feeling feet for five simple reasons:

  1. Better Blood Flow
  2. Stronger Arches
  3. Greater Stability During Movement
  4. Improved Hip Mobility
  5. Improved Cognition with Lower Stress

 

Better Blood Flow

If you’re anything like me, your feet are cold a lot. 

This means that less warm, nutritious blood is circulating there, which makes sense, as our feet are the furthest point for our heart to pump blood to and from. By using our fingers to massage and stretch between our toes, we warm the area and increase the hydraulic pressures acting at the capillary level (this is where blood vessels become tiny, intricate webs, and interact with your cells). 

The increased temperature and hydraulic pressure increase blood flow, bringing in more oxygen and other nutrients, as well as increasing the flexibility and compliance of the tissues (Portillo-Soto et al, 2014 & Field 2014).

 

Stronger Arches

Ever been told you have flat feet? 

While although this is an entire future blog in itself, the simple fact is our arches are dynamic structures (not dependent on our skeletal frame). Meaning we create the lift of the arches via muscle tension. So, your “flat feet” or whatever foot issue you’ve been told you have likely don’t need orthotics but consistent, simple foot workouts!

However, there’s a catch or a prerequisite if you want to get the most out of these workouts… your feet have to be pliable and flexible enough to spread out. If your feet and toes cannot spread out, some muscles will be inhibited from doing their jobs.

So you need to spend some more quality time with your fingers between your toes, and trying to undo the tightness created by a lifetime of traditional shoes is vitally important.

 

Greater Stability During Movement

When our toes have been scrunched in shoes for years, it changes the length of the hundreds of muscles and ligaments of our feet and decreases our ability to use them optimally (Cleveland Clinic). 

Getting our toes to spread outward instead of crumpling inward is a process. You wouldn’t go to the gym and expect to look different the next day, would you? Well, it’s the same here. Tissue change is possible but takes time.

Watching TV while spreading your toes is a great step in this process -- holding your toes away from each other allows them to reorient and rebuild their proper tissue lengths. When we can spread our toes, we create a broader base for us to move off of AND we can recruit more muscles to help us with that movement (remember, some muscles can’t even be used until our toes move outward). 

A broader base helps us go from a shaky connection of sequential falls when walking to steady and strong. Toe spacers work under the same premise, allowing you to spread your toes for more hours throughout the day (use them, too!). But using our own hands has a few other unique benefits that we can’t get with toe spacers only.

 

Improved Hip Mobility

When I (Lily) used to teach this move to my yoga classes, the question I would always ask to make people laugh and get them thinking— “who put your feet so far away?!”

For most of us, getting our hands to connect to our feet is a great hip stretch (and if it isn’t, make sure your pelvis is in neutral, your low back isn’t moving AT ALL, and let your knee fall out to the side).

We need hip mobility for all sorts of movements in our daily life (tying our shoes, loading our groceries, playing with our pets, etc). When we don’t have proper hip mobility, our back often does the movement instead. Although this might not seem bad, it is the main underlying reason we see patients with back pain. This is because your back doesn’t have a butt! 

The butt is strategically placed behind the only ball and socket joint of our lower extremity to be the power of the hip. Your back doesn’t have this big muscle behind it, it has your erectors (the long, ropey muscles along the spine), and most of us would rather those be less tense than tenser from being overworked every time we move.

 

Improved Cognition with Lower Stress 

We all want to work better, with more focus and ease. Well, a study published in the Internal Journal of Neuroscience found that 15-minute massages make us better at math, more relaxed, and lower cortisol levels and anxiety over a 5-week period (Field et al, 1996). 

Now this was for sitting in a massage chair, but the principles are easily applicable to foot care. This study shows that our chemistry changes when we take even 15 minutes to be calm and give our body care. As a result, we get better at handling mentally challenging things and feel better about our lives.

So tonight, use your TV time to move more of your parts, increase nutrients to your far away feet, and set yourself up for a successful tomorrow.

 

References

  1. Portillo-Soto, A., Eberman, L. E., Demchak, T. J., & Peebles, C. (2014). Comparison of blood flow changes with soft tissue mobilization and massage therapy. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.), 20(12), 932–936. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2014.0160
  2. Field T. (2014). Massage therapy research review. Complementary therapies in clinical practice, 20(4), 224–229. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctcp.2014.07.002
  3. Foot ligaments: Anatomy and function. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Retrieved February 5, 2023, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/body/21597-foot-ligaments
  4. Field, T., Ironson, G., Scafidi, F., Nawrocki, T., Goncalves, A., Burman, I., Pickens, J., Fox, N., Schanberg, S., & Kuhn, C. (1996). Massage therapy reduces anxiety and enhances EEG pattern of alertness and math computations. The International journal of neuroscience, 86(3-4), 197–205. https://doi.org/10.3109/00207459608986710