By Helen A.S. Popkin, tech editor
What it is: YogaToes by YogaPro, $49.95 plus shipping
What it claims to do: According to the manufacturer's Web site, YogaToes do the following:
Exercise your feet to stay healthy & in shape.
Improve and prevent foot problems by stretching & aligning your toes.
Ease the discomfort of hammertoes, bunions & plantar fasciitis.
Recover from stress, strain and overuse. Improve foot strength, flexibility and appearance.
Increase circulation, straighten bent toes, and realign joints.
Improve and reduce the aches and pains associated with poor posture.
My experience: "Make sure that you are getting the authentic YogaToes," warns the YogaPro Web site. "Beware of imitations." And indeed there are imitators; Pampered Toes ($9.99) and Healthytoes ($34.99) to name two. You get what you pay for, seems to be the implication. Upon casual inspection however, YogaToes and its imitators seem at least superficially the same.
No matter, for this review I'm trying out the $49.95 name brand – my poor tired tootsies deserve the alleged-best. They've had a tough time of it the past decade or so. My feet, once blessed with a symmetrical loveliness, now suffer the lumpy indignities of congenital flat-footedness. (Thanks, Mom!)
The $400 medical orthotics (that insurance doesn't cover) did nothing to prevent – yeech – bunions. These hideous lumps cause my big toes to push inward, crowding the space of the second toes and leaving my dogs barking at the end of every day – even though I wear pretty sensible shoes.
So, when I first happened upon an advertisement for YogaToes, I was instantly drawn to the product that claimed it could align my unruly big toes. When my YogaToes arrived in the mail, I ripped open the package to find a surprisingly gelatinous set of tootsie grates resembling the toe separators used for pedicures, only much larger and fully enclosed. Overall, the YogaToes didn't much resemble the sparkling "sapphire blue" product on the Web site, nor were they as firm as they appeared.
The YogaToes came with only the most basic of instructions. It's advised to wet the YogaToes so you can more easily place each toe in its individual slot and wear for 10 minutes a day at first so your muscles can get used to stretching. I found it fairly easy to put the YogaToes on my feet without wetting them first, and they were quite comfortable. I observed the 10 minute limit at first, somewhat worried about charley horses. However, throughout my first two weeks with YogaToes, I suffered no discomfort during and after use.
As the first week progressed, I began to use the YogaToes up to an hour or so at a time while watching television because I found them so comfortable. Removing the YogaToes is simple, even if they aren't pre-moistened. After each use, my toes felt nicely separated for at least an hour – a happy change from the achy bunched feet that come out of my shoes each evening when I come home from work. I've tried warming YogaToes with hot water, and chilling them in the refrigerator, as suggested by the manufacturer – both ways were tolerable. However, I prefer YogaToes at room temperature.
What the expert says: "I really like YogaToes," Dr. Carol Frey told me. Seeing as Dr. Frey is assistant clinical professor of orthopedic surgery at UCLA, as well as co-director and West Coast Sports Medicine Foundation director of orthopedic foot and ankle surgery in Manhattan Beach, Calif., I figure she knows what she's talking about.
Still, Frey didn't learn about YogaToes at some high falutin' foot doctor convention, but from her patients. YogaToes are perfect for the foot-strengthening exercises Frey prescribes for her patients – much better than the pedicure toe separators she had been using. "And you can use them hot or cold," added Dr. Frey, who has used chilled YogaToes on post-operative patients.
Fray says YogaToes are helpful in preventing or relieving mild corns or bunion pain, especially for those who wear tight shoes or high heels which squeeze the feet into unnatural positions. YogaToes would not be helpful for those suffering from moderate to severe foot pain or deformities, she added.
And what about those cheap YogaToes knockoffs? "It's a very simple, straight-forward design, so even the knockoffs get it right, as long as they stretch the toes just enough without being painful."
Bottom line: After several weeks of use, my feet still have their various flat-footed issues, and my bunions still ache at the end of the day – not that I expected them to be "cured." However, the YogaToes did and do leave my feet feeling relaxed after use, and I look forward to using them at the end of each day. Still, I can't reconcile the nearly $50 price tag for a pair of rubber grates that undoubtedly cost a fraction of that amount to produce. Now that I have them, however, I will continue to use them on a regular basis.