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What are Overlapping Toes?

Overlapping toes occur when one toe lies on top of an adjacent toe, often due to tight shoes, genetics, or foot conditions. This can lead to discomfort and mobility issues. Our detailed guide, complete with vivid images, will help you understand the causes and treatments for this common foot concern. Curious about how to alleviate discomfort? Keep reading to explore your options.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Overlapping toes are toes with a tendency to lie over their neighbors, rather than sitting flat. This condition most commonly appears in the second or fifth toes and causes irritation, pain, and calluses. Some patients may develop difficulty walking or chronic foot pain as a result of overlapping toes. There are a number of medical treatments for this condition, as well as surgical options for persistent cases that resist medical treatment. A podiatrist or foot and ankle surgeon can supervise diagnosis and treatment of overlapping toes.

Sometimes this condition is congenital, and it can be accompanied with mallet or hammer toe, where the toes become fixed in abnormal positions as a result of bending. Wearing constricting footwear, having an unsteady or unusual gait, or injuring the feet can also result in overlapping toes. Patients may notice the toes overlapping when their feet are bare and they can also spot signs of irritation like abrasions, calluses, tenderness, and reddening along the involved toes. In addition, overlapping toes can make wearing shoes uncomfortable.

Patients may experience difficulty walking as a result of overlapping toes.
Patients may experience difficulty walking as a result of overlapping toes.

Conservative treatment for overlapping toes includes wearing shoes with a roomy toebox to give the toes room to spread out, along with wearing inserts in the shoes to support the toes and encourage them to separate. Sometimes this treatment is sufficient to address the problem and make the patient's feet comfortable again. If the toes keep overlapping, surgery to straighten them out may be required.

Wearing shoes with a roomy toebox may help treat overlapping toes.
Wearing shoes with a roomy toebox may help treat overlapping toes.

Having overlapping toes can make someone's gait unsteady, as the toes are involved in stabilizing and supporting bodyweight while people walk. This condition can make people more prone to tripping and falling, in addition to causing foot pain. The pain can also lead to a gait abnormality, as people may adjust their gait, often without realizing it, to keep weight off the toes involved. Over time, this can lead to pain and stiffness in the joints of the legs and hips as the body tries to adjust to the abnormal gait.

If toes continue to overlap with one another, surgery will be necessary to correct the problem.
If toes continue to overlap with one another, surgery will be necessary to correct the problem.

In families with a history of overlapping toes and other foot deformities, it is advisable to keep a sharp eye on the feet of developing infants. Keeping babies in comfortable, soft socks and shoes designed with plenty of room for the toes is helpful, as is fitting toddler shoes properly to ensure that their feet will be supported while they walk. If a toddler appears to be developing gait abnormalities or foot pain, a doctor should be consulted to discuss treatment options. Generally, the earlier treatment is provided, the better the prognosis for the patient.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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    • Patients may experience difficulty walking as a result of overlapping toes.
      By: Monkey Business
      Patients may experience difficulty walking as a result of overlapping toes.
    • Wearing shoes with a roomy toebox may help treat overlapping toes.
      By: Sandor Kacso
      Wearing shoes with a roomy toebox may help treat overlapping toes.
    • If toes continue to overlap with one another, surgery will be necessary to correct the problem.
      By: muratolmez
      If toes continue to overlap with one another, surgery will be necessary to correct the problem.
    • Overlapping toes may cause hip pain.
      By: Nikki Zalewski
      Overlapping toes may cause hip pain.
    • Gait abnormality caused by overlapping toes may lead to pain and stiffness in the leg and hip joints.
      By: Tyler Olson
      Gait abnormality caused by overlapping toes may lead to pain and stiffness in the leg and hip joints.