When you take your shoes off and stand up, your toes turn upward by themselves. That is usually from tightness in the top of the foot. You can often see the tight, string-like tendons on the top of the foot pulling the toes back. Do your toes face outward (toward the little toes) when your foot is facing straight forward (same photo). A sideways -shift is common, not only from tight shoes, but can be produced from how you walk, step after step, year after year.

Toes deform into unhealthful positions in common ways:

  • Shoes: Tight shoes fold and shift toes out of place. Heeled shoes push toes upward. When toes are held in one position too much, the muscles tighten and don't go back to normal length.
  • How You Use Foot Muscles: Many people do not use muscles in their feet or toes when they walk. They just clomp. The muscles that normally work to pull toes and forefoot downward during the weight-bearing phase never engage properly. The toes stretch upward during push-off, but not downward.
  • Positioning: If you walk with feet facing outward, the "push-off" phase is on the side of the big toe instead of the bottom of the foot. After years of being pushed toward the other toes, the big toe eventually tightens into the new shifted position.

Good reasons to stretch toes:

  • Healthy spacing avoids fungus like Athlete's foot, calluses and other injuries from rubbing, and improves needed movement.
  • Toes need to move through a full range up and down, and independently from each other, for balance, preventing several causes of foot pain, and for quicker, healthier movement ability. Feet are not just blocks to clomp around on.
  • You can avoid toes that curl, hook, hammer, face different directions, or push sideways into bunions.

Try these easy stretches:

  • 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.
  • See the post Essential Stretches for Runners for fun foot stretches.

Stretch deformed, squashed toes with your hands several times every day, or at least at night and in the morning, or when exercising or stretching. Reduce the need to stretch them back to health in the first place. Walk with feet (and knees) facing straight ahead. Wear shoes with room in the toes. Tight shoes are not healthy. Unhealthy shoes are not beautiful.