What’s The Best Way To Deal With Overlapping Toes?

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Overlapping toes are toes that experience unusual growth whereby the toes turn in and lie on top of the next toe. Otherwise referred to as overriding toes, almost all toes are easily susceptible to the condition. More so, there are various causes and risk factors associated with the condition of overlapping toes. Left unchecked and the complication can lead to various adverse side effects such as calluses, pain, irritation, and more.  Usually, the difficulty is popular among babies and small children, but particularly the old individuals. Furthermore, the overlapping toes can either stay in a fixed or correctable position.

The overlapping toes can also occur in an unborn fetus. Using adhesive tapes and passive stretching are commonly used for infants. These techniques are effective due to the relatively undeveloped nature of the toes. In some cases, surgical procedures might be required to release the tendon and soft tissue. On the contrary, the underlapping toes often occur on the fourth and fifth toes. However, the leading cause of overlapping toes is not well known. Most medical experts believe that it is due to the release of the tendon at the bottom of the toe.

Causes and Symptoms

The overlapping toes occur when the toes experience unusual growth patterns. Issues such as increased chafing can lead to the development of corns or even ulcers. As the condition worsens, the individual might be unable to walk and will experience pain. The affected toe might hit at the wrong spots, thereby causing pain and discomfort. Furthermore, most types of shoes are not designed to accommodate feet with overlapping toes. Once the overlapped toe is fully grown, it might be difficult to straighten it out back again.

Broadly speaking, the common causes of overlapping causes are still not well understood. Some experts believe that the condition is congenital, while others cite unusual positioning in the womb. It is more likely the genetics plays a major role in the condition because it is mostly observed in a family lineage. The toe deformities are also not uncommon among children and infants. Similar to most toe deformities, the overlapping toes can sometimes be presented at birth. Left untreated, and the condition can develop into appalling sizes. The common causes of the condition include:

  • Muscle imbalance – a muscle imbalance that occurs from an unusual gait is one of the primary causes of overlapping toes. More so, weak muscles tend to be flaccid, thereby compromising their ability to withstand pressure. However, genetics are also believed to increase the likelihood of getting such toes.
  • Having a long second toe – the length of the toes can increase the likelihood of suffering from overlapping toes. People who wear tight footwear or incorrect shoes and have long toes are likely to get overlapping toes.
  • Stiff tendons – the occurrence of stiff tendons might compromise the growth progress of the toes. The ligaments are essential muscles that control the movement of the toe.
  • The occurrence of bunions – bunions on the big doe can incline the next toe into an unusual position, thereby causing an overlapped growth.
  • Genetic predisposition – a recent medical study showed that toe deformities are sometimes inherited from the previous generations. As such, individuals that are born into families with a history of malformations are likely to get overlapping toes.


The process of diagnosing an overlapping toe often involves a physical exam, whereby the physician evaluates the structure of the affected toe. More so, the physician will inquire about factors such as genetics on foot deformities and any associated factors. Using this information, the physician will determine whether heredity played a significant role in the diagnosis process. They might also perform an MRI or X-ray procedure to determine the extent of damage around the foot and affected area. For infants and young children, being able to detect the condition might not necessarily be easy. Usually, this due to the underdeveloped nature of the bones and toes.

Living with Overlapping Toes

Similar to most toe deformities, the overlapping toes will not necessarily cause pain or compromise the quality of one`s life. Usually, the presence of the condition does not signify a medical condition, and toes will straighten as the individual develops. Complications can come up as the individual grows, and the soft foot issues become permanent complications. The condition can affect both children and adults. However, being able to address the problem at the early stages can be highly beneficial in the treatment procedure. Furthermore, you might also have to consider investing in shoes with large toe boxes.

Available Treatment Options

The initial medical response to an overlapping toe would be to treat it using conservative techniques. Among some of the significant methods including taping, shoe modification, binding, and more. However, if these treatment methods are not successful, then the individual might have to consider secondary treatment options. The extreme instances of the condition might require medical help and procedures to achieve the best outcomes. The diagnosis must also occur on time, to ensure the individual gets meaningful help before the condition increases.

Unfortunately, the conservative approaches of treating the condition such as taping, stretching, and binding are not usually practical. In fact, these techniques are only useful when you observe the complication early enough before it develops. Many times, surgery if the best option because it provides guaranteed results.

Questions to Ask the Doctor about Overlapping Toes

While this particular toe deformity might not be necessarily associated with the onset of particular health complications, it is vital to stay informed. Among some of the major questions or factors to consider include:

  • What is the leading cause of the toe overlap? – being able to understand the cause of the toe deformity is vital in preventing any possible future occurrences.
  • Is there any likelihood that the condition might recur or that the child might outgrow the overlapping toes? – You need to understand the probability of the complication occurring or persisting to make it easy to choose suitable treatment methods.
  • Are there any meaningful non-surgical solutions for the deformity? – Surgery might involve several medical procedures and a higher cost than most treatment methods. Therefore, consider using the conservative approaches before settling for the operation
  • What is the recommended patient characteristic for the process? – Some patients of the condition are not necessarily suitable for surgery. For instance, infants or even patients with diabetes are not suitable candidates for the treatment process.

What Problems Do Overlapping Toes Cause?

While overlapping toes are not necessarily harmful to one’s overall health, the complication can cause several problems. Consider some of these problems associated with overlapping toes:

Pain & Irritation

The typical sign of an overlapping toe would be the pain and discomfort that accompanies the condition. In most cases, pain causes discomfort, especially when one wears closed or tight shoes. The discomfort occurs when the toes get in contact during movement. Not many shoe brands develop shoes that can provide sufficient space for a toe with deformities. In some cases, flip flops and/or slippers can provide relief. But whether it’s possible to wear these, depends entirely on your individual situation.


Having overlapping toes increases the likelihood of getting corns on the feet. In particular, the corns will come up due to the problem of friction as you move around. The friction often occurs around the knuckle area of the toe or the exterior sections as well. In extreme cases, the occurrence of corns might lead to issues such as would and ulceration, especially when you have problems such as diabetes.

Footwear Fitting Complications

Overlapping toes can have adverse effects on the natural structure of the foot. As such, the footwear can make it challenging to find shoes that are suitable for everyday footwear. In some cases, you might even have to invest in shoes that have extra footwear depth. The challenge with such an investment is that custom shoes come at a higher cost than the conventional types of shoes.

Unnatural Gait

The discomfort that comes along with overlapping toes might easily affect the natural way in which you walk. You walk naturally to avoid the discomfort that arises over time, primarily due to issues such as friction. The body might take upon an unusual walk pattern to compensate for the discomfort and irritation associated with the condition.

Top Tips for Managing Overlapping Toes

There are various ways through which you can address the issue of overlapping toes. Once you are sure that you have the toe deformity, you will have to choose a suitable treatment approach to suit your needs. To correct the condition, you will have to consider a combination of several options. The common ones include:

Toe Separators and Spacers

The use of toe separators helps to maintain the natural position of your toes and to provide improved alignment benefits. You can easily shop for various types of toe separators online, or you can order from a foot specialist.

Toe Loops and Bandages

The loops and bandages help to improve the positioning of the adjacent, thereby maintaining it in a single position. The central concept behind the loop is to provide added support to the overlapping toe, such that it stays in optimal alignment. Even though this technique is not as effective as a separator, the bandage and loops are a less intrusive approach.

Corn Protectors

Corns can develop on the feet due to issues such as pressure and friction, which often occurs on the top section of the foot. In most cases, the condition commonly affects the fifth toe. Toe keep your feet safe from corns and to promote healing, using protectors would be an excellent solution. The corn protectors help to cover the corn from issues such as friction, thereby providing optimal healing benefits. Another option would be to consider the removal of dead skin that accompanies the corn. Use a pumice stone, and the apply natural on the treated area. Ultimately, you might have to adjust the conditions that cause the corns in the first place. This might include altering your footwear collection entirely, to avoid issues such as rubbing.

Surgery Treatments – What to Expect?

Invasive treatment is perhaps the most effective approach for addressing the issue of overlapping toes. The corrective surgery process often involves the process of releasing the tendon and the soft tissue that exist around the first joint of the toe with the deformity. Furthermore, since the skin might experience contraction, some plastic surgery might also be required. However, only in rare cases will you need to use a temporary pin to ensure the toe stays in a fixed position.

The pin will sit in the given position only for a brief duration that should not surpass three weeks. At the end of this duration, the pin can be removed by a certified medical professional. Some patients might have to wear a splint around the affected area for some few weeks. During the recovery process, it is highly recommended that you stay away from any significant form of physical activity. This helps to ensure that the feet are not affected by the unusual movement. The typical surgical treatment approaches for the toe deformity might include:

  • Soft tissue procedures – some of the standard methods for soft tissue procedures are developed to restructure the top or the bottom of the toe. The process might also involve the process of restructuring the ligament, which plays a significant role in toe positioning.
  • Bone surgery – this process is referred to as arthroplasty, where both bones are restructured. The process will involve the proper placing of the toe and joint as well. However, this process has sometimes been criticized for the development of “pencil toe,” which affects the bend of each toe.

Bottom Line

Toe and foot deformities are a common occurrence that can affect almost any individual. However, staying informed can play a significant role in your ability to identify and correct the condition. You can only solve issues such as toe deformities when you choose suitable treatment methods. Being able to identify the complication early enough can reduce the level of treatment required. The advanced overlapping toes issues will require invasive procedures such as corrective surgery to achieve the best outcomes.

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