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Toe separators are intended to reduce friction and irritation between the toes. There are several conditions that can force the use of separators, all involving toes that are in an awkward or uncomfortable position. The devices carefully pull the toes into a position where they do not touch to increase a person's comfort level. They can be made of foam, gel, cotton, and moleskin, among other materials, each with an intended usage.
There are several reasons that people choose to use toe separators. Crooked or overlapping toes happen when one toe rests on top of another and can cause friction and pain. Pinched toes are toes that are smashed together and rub uncomfortably. In many cases, this rubbing can also cause corns.
Separators come a variety of materials and styles, and they usually come in sizes small, medium, large, or extra large to accommodate various sizes of feet. Some are meant to be used with shoes, and others without. Any shoes worn with them should be loose fitting.
Foam and gel separators work similarly and are basically a thin board placed between the toes. Foam separators absorb friction and pressure and are usually made of several thin layers. They can usually be trimmed and are washable. Gel separators are similar, but contain a squishy material that releases a moisturizer, such as mineral oil. Both are intended for use in shoes and are washable and reusable.
Some toe separators called splints are made specifically for use at night and are not intended to be worn with shoes. These look quite similar to the separators used during a pedicure, and they are meant to train the toes into a correct position and provide some relief overnight.
Adhesive moleskin and bandages may also be used to keep the toes apart. Users can simply cut the correct size strip and stick it between the toes. This cheaper alternative does not correct severely overlapping toes with the same effectiveness of products meant for that purpose, but it does help with friction
Toe trainers serve the same purpose as separators, in that they reduce friction and promote alignment. These trainers are small, cotton, covered foam splints that slide over the defective toes. They provide the strength of an overnight splint, but can be worn under shoes.
Toe socks perform a similar purpose as bandages and are basically fabric-based socks that slip over each toe separately. They can be found in full or small socks that cover only the balls of the feet and allow the ends of the toes to be free.
There are a few precautions that must be taken with toe separators. Those with diabetes are cautioned against using them, as well as those with open wounds. Any skin discoloration, numbness, pain or other irritations should be reported to a health professional and the product's use should be discontinued.