Are overlapping toes causing you pain, discomfort, and embarrassment? They can ruin a run, make you self-conscious around loved ones, and render your sandals useless and unworn.
They’re not fun to have, and they can lead to worse problems down the line if they aren’t corrected. But there is good news. Depending on the cause of your overlapping toes, you can take action to help correct them.
It may take time, and you may need to incorporate multiple treatment methods at the same time. But if you follow the advice in this article, you should find that your pain diminishes, your discomfort lessens, and you may even be able to get your toes back to normal after some time.
Let’s have a look at what causes this condition and how you can treat it yourself.
What Are Overlapping Toes?
Overlapping toes are just as they sound—toes that overlap the toe next to them. It occurs most often with the smallest toe, but it also happens to the second toe, which is sometimes called the crossover toe.
Although this condition is most commonly seen in newborn babies, it can also occur in adults. This is usually due to some kind of trauma to the foot and toes or arthritis. Children who were born with overlapping toes may develop the condition in the future again.
Approximately 7 percent of people in the world have an overlapping toe! It usually occurs on only one foot, but 20 to 30 percent of people have them on both feet.
There’s also a condition called underlapping toes, which is when the toes move underneath adjacent toes.
What Are the Causes of Overlapping Toes?
When overlapping toes occur in newborn babies, it may be due to genetics or a lack of space in the womb. In some, the condition can recur as they get older.
However, there are multiple other reasons for the condition in adults.
Overlapping toes is a genetic condition that runs in families. If one of your parents had an overlapping toe, your chances of developing the condition are higher.
The inherited bone structure of your foot may be responsible for this.
Morton’s toe is a structural abnormality in which your second toe is longer than your first toe. If your footwear doesn’t cater to this unique biomechanic structure, your second toe may move over your big toe as it’s forced out of position.
If your foot biomechanics are abnormal, you may find that your weight is unevenly distributed across your foot.
This may cause your joint to move out of alignment, placing excess pressure on the toes and causing them to move out of position.
If you overpronate or underpronate and you aren’t wearing supportive shoes, this can also cause uneven weight distribution, possibly leading to overlapping toes.
If your shoes are too tight—especially on the forefoot—this can place high pressure on the toes.
When there’s too little space for your toes to splay, they can begin to overlap each other. This usually turns into permanent overlapping toes when you wear the same pair of ill-fitting shoes for an extended period of time.
High heels and pointed shoes can also create this problem, as they force your toes into an unnatural position.
Dislocated toes can also cause the toes to overlap. The overlap may become permanent if the injured toe is not put back into place correctly.
Injury to the ligament of the overlapping toe may also cause the toe to be unable to remain in its natural position.
Other Foot Conditions
Overlapping toes is a common condition seen alongside bunions. As the big toe begins to move inward due to the pressure of the bunion, it can overlap the second toe. In some cases, the big toe goes under the second toe.
High arches and supination can cause overlapping toes on your fifth toe as your foot rolls to the outside and places pressure on these toes.
Flat feet—low arches—and overpronation can also cause overlapping toes as the foot rolls inwards and places pressure on the big toe and second toe.
Other conditions that may lead to overlapping toes include hammer toe, mallet toe, and rheumatoid arthritis, which changes your foot structure.
What Are the Complications?
An overlapping toe can lead to a variety of complications if not treated with care. In many cases, the unique structure of the overlapping toe causes it to chafe against the upper of your shoe, causing blisters, corns, and calluses on the toe.
You may also begin to alter your gait to accommodate your overlapping toes. This can lead to a number of other foot conditions, including metatarsalgia, bursitis, and even leading to your developing over-or underpronation.
All of these cases include pain, discomfort, and inflammation in the feet. You may also struggle to find shoes that fit you properly, as your overlapping toe takes up more space in the toe box.
Open-toed shoes may be difficult or impossible to wear, especially those with a toe post that goes between your big toe and second toe.
Not only that, but overlapping toes may cause you mental distress. If you enjoy walking barefoot or wearing open-toed shoes, you may feel embarrassed if you develop an overlapping toe, which can diminish your quality of life.
Treatments for Overlapping Toes
Babies who are born with the condition usually go through a taping and stretching regime for up to 6 months, which fixes the condition in over 90 percent of cases.
However, adults need to be more thoughtful about how they treat their toes. Here are some treatment options that you can do at home, as well as some more advanced treatments if these don’t help.
You can tape or bandage your toes in such a way that they hold the overlapping toe in the correct position. Here’s a quick video that can help you get an idea of how to tape your own toes to keep them in position.
If you don’t have tape, you can also bandage your overlapping toe to toe on the other side of it—buddy splinting.
Make sure you tape or bandage it firmly but not so tight that it begins to affect the circulation in the toes.
Use Toe Separators
If you aren’t sure how to tape your toe, you can use toe straighteners instead. They are usually made of a gel-like material that’s soft and comfortable, although some are made of silicone, so be careful if you have a sensitivity.
You can ask your podiatrist about toe straighteners or buy them at most pharmacies. Make sure to buy one in an appropriate size for you.
These will stop your toes from overlapping, and hold them gently in the correct place, so they don’t overlap.
Use an Insert
If your overlapping toes are caused by a bunion, an insert could help. Bunion pads can help to relieve pressure on the painful part of the foot, which stops you from altering your gait.
If your bunion is caused by misalignment of the foot, using an insert that gently aligns your foot can help to relieve pressure, improve weight distribution, and ease the pain.
You can buy bunion inserts over the counter or ask your podiatrist to create a custom insert for you that provides the right amount of support.
Try A Night Splint
A night splint can help to straighten your toes while you sleep. This can help to retrain the toe to remain in its correct position.
This is a good choice for those who can’t wear toe separators during the day for any reason.
Physical therapy can help loosen tight muscles that may contribute to the toe’s misalignment.
A physiotherapist may massage and stretch your foot, as well as giving you exercises and stretches to do at home that will strengthen your toes.
You will only need surgery for overlapping toes if it causes you pain or affects your daily activities. Your surgeon will do one of the following procedures depending on the severity of your condition:
- Tendon release: Releasing tight tendons that are pulling on the toe.
- Adjustment: Surgically adjusts the position of the toe.
- Bunion removal: This can cause the overlapping toe to realign.
If you’re genetically prone to overlapping toes, here are a few ways you can prevent them from happening.
Wear the Right Footwear
Wearing the right footwear for your feet will ensure that you have good weight distribution and no pressure points that could cause a problem.
Make sure that your shoes support your arch type and have a spacious toe box so your toes are never cramped.
You should also avoid high heels, shoes with pointed-toe boxes, and ill-fitting shoes.
Use Orthotic Inserts
If you don’t want to buy new shoes, you can use an insert to provide the right support instead. This is more affordable and can help if you need some light support.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Maintaining a healthy weight will reduce the pressure on your feet. The more weight on your feet, the more pressure on the forefoot, which can cause the toes to get cramped.