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Tabi Socks and Split Toe Footwear

Soon after I started working to strengthen my arches, it became clear that the toes play an important role in stabilizing the foot. I’ve written before about my perception of having a “lazy big toe”. I called it lazy because it seemed to not do much except flop on the ground when I walked.

I also had difficulty splaying or spreading out the toes. I knew the lack of control I had over the toes was contributing to my flat feet and excessive pronation.

So, trying to do everything I could to fix my flat feet, I began looking for ways to increase the strength and overall function of the toes.

I began wearing shoes with wide toe boxes so the toes had enough room to spread out. I prefer to wear socks with most shoes in order to absorb sweat and preserve the shoes. Socks are not terribly restrictive in that most are made with material that stretches. But my toes still felt somewhat confined when wearing regular socks.

It also seemed like regular socks reduced a lot of the sensory feedback that comes from the toes. So I went looking for solutions.

Split Toe Sock Design

I thought briefly about wearing toe socks which are similar to gloves in that they have individual pockets for each toe. Those seemed like a lot of work to get on though. So I kept looking for alternatives. That’s how I stumbled on split-toe socks. These are socks with a separation between the big toe and other toes.

I ordered a few pairs to try out and fell in love with them right away. Having that separation makes a world of difference.

With these socks, I could feel what the big toe was doing inside the shoe. Overall, my toes just felt more active and engaged when using them.

This meant I could practice a lot of what I was working on to strengthen my arches during the times that I had no choice but to wear shoes.

History of Tabi Socks

The socks that I use are a modern version of Tabi. Tabi are a traditional Japanese sock designed to be worn with thonged sandals. Apparently, a split-toe design is a feature of a lot of traditional Japanese footwear.

Other names I’ve seen for these are flip-flop socks and lobster socks. There are also tabi boots (called Jika-tabi) that have a split-toe design and a rubber sole. These came about around the turn of the 20th century and were reportedly popular as worker boots.

Socially Acceptable Fashion

I think it’s unfortunate that split-toe designs are not more popular. I tend to avoid wearing them when I know people are going to see my socks. I have pairs of tabi socks that are solid colors and they easily pass as regular socks when wearing shoes. These can make a good conversation starter, however.

I’ve been wanting to get a pair of split-toe shoes for a while now. The winner of the 1951 Boston Marathon actually ran in split-toe running shoes.

I already own a pair of Vibram FiveFingers that I use and enjoy for working out and hiking. I don’t wear those with socks though because with those I’m trying to get as close to a barefoot experience as possible.

With just the one separation, the split-toe design seems like a nice middle ground. It allows some independence between the toes while still resembling shoes that many of us are used to wearing.

About James Speck

James is a physical therapist with a special interest in the foot and ankle. He created this site to share his own journey toward better arches. Read more

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