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What Are Overlapping Toes?

Overlapping toes can be corrected through podiatrist treatment or surgery.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2014
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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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