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Morton’s toe, or Morton’s foot, describes the condition where your second toe looks longer than your big toe. It’s very common: Some people just have it and others don’t.

In some people, Morton’s toe may increase the chances of calluses forming on the sole of your foot and some other foot pains. Let’s look at what Morton’s toe is. Just note, it’s not the same as Morton’s neuroma.

You can tell if you have Morton’s toe just by looking at your foot. If your second toe projects out farther than your big toe, you’ve got it.

It’s also very common. A study of American college students found that 42.2 percent had longer second toes (45.7 percent of men and 40.3 percent of women).

Morton’s toe is hereditary, like most features of your bone structure.

Research suggests that Morton’s toe may even be an advantage in athletics. A 2004 study comparing professional athletes to non-athletes found that professional athletes tended to have Morton’s toe more frequently than non-athletes.

It’s not your toes

Illustration shows the first metatarsal, a bone in the foot, as shorter than the second metatarsal, causing the second toe to look longer than the first, big toe.Share on Pinterest
Illustration by Diego Sabogal

Your metatarsals are the long bones that connect your toes to the back of your foot. They curve upward to form the arch of your foot. Your first metatarsal is the thickest.

In people with Morton’s toe, the first metatarsal is shorter compared to the second metatarsal. This is what makes your second toe look longer than the first.

Having a shorter first metatarsal may cause more weight to be put on the thinner second metatarsal bone.

Since Morton’s toe is connected with the structure of the foot, some people who have Morton’s toe eventually get aches and pains in their foot. It’s associated with how weight is distributed across your foot, especially on the first and second metatarsals.

Your doctor will first try placing a flexible pad under your big toe and first metatarsal. The purpose of this is to increase the weight bearing on the big toe and where it connects to the first metatarsal.

Other conservative treatments include:

  • Exercises. Physical therapy can strengthen and stretch muscles of your foot.
  • Medication. Over-the-counter NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) may help reduce pain and swelling. Your doctor may also advise prescription-strength anti-inflammatories.
  • Custom shoe accessories. Custom orthotics prepared by a specialist may help align your foot and ease the pain.

If pain persists, your doctor may recommend surgery. There are two common types of surgical procedures:

  • Joint resection. A small portion of one of the toe joints is removed. The technical term for this is interphalangeal joint arthroplasty.
  • Arthrodesis. An entire joint of the toe is removed and the bone ends are allowed to heal and rejoin themselves. The technical term for this is interphalangeal joint arthrodesis.

Some simple things you can do to take care of your feet and prevent pain include:

  • Wear comfortable well-fitting shoes with good support.
  • Buy shoes with a wide roomy toe box. Avoid shoes with pointed toes.
  • Add an insole with arch support to your shoes.
  • Consider padding “hot spots,” places in your shoes where it rubs, creates pain, or isn’t padded enough.
  • Take regular care of any calluses on your toes. While calluses aren’t necessarily bad because they form to protect our feet from repeated pressure, keeping a callus from getting too thick or dry is important.

Shop online for insoles and padding designed for shoes.

Morton’s toe isn’t the same as Morton’s neuroma (aka Morton’s metatarsalgia). In fact, the two conditions are named after two different Mortons!

Morton’s neuroma is named after the American physician Thomas George Morton, while Morton’s toe is named after Dudley Joy Morton.

Morton’s neuroma is a painful condition affecting the ball of the foot. It most often occurs between the third and fourth toes, but can also come between the second and third toes. The pain comes from thickening of the tissue around a nerve.

Other foot pain is sometimes associated with Morton’s toe:

  • If a long second toe rubs against the front of your shoes, it can cause a corn or callus to form on the tip of the toe.
  • Rubbing from a tight shoe can also cause a Morton’s toe to progress into a hammer toe, which is when your big toe curls inward and becomes effectively shorter. As the tip of the toe pushes against the shoe, your toe muscle can contract and create a hammer toe.
  • A Morton’s foot structure may make it more likely for your toes to become red, warm, or swollen as they’re squeezed by a shoe.
  • A bunion on your first toe can shift the big toe, making it look as though you have a longer second toe.

One of many types of toes

Differences in lengths and foot shapes have been observed over a long time. Evidence of different foot forms is found in ancient sculpture and fossilized footprints. Morton’s toe is just one type of foot shape.

The incidence of Morton’s toe varies greatly among different population groups. Among the Ainu people of far eastern Russia and Japan, 90 percent show Morton’s toe.

In a Greek study, 62 percent of men and 32 percent of women had Morton’s toe.

A British podiatrist who became an amateur archeologist found that the skeletons of Celtic people were more likely to have Morton’s toe, while those of Anglo-Saxon origin more often had a second toe slightly shorter than the first one.

The term comes from the American orthopedist Dudley Joy Morton (1884–1960).

In a 1935 book, Morton described a condition called Morton’s triad or Morton’s foot syndrome that affected people with a shorter big toe and longer second toe.

He thought this caused the second toe to bear excess weight that normally would have been supported by the big toe. That could lead to calluses on the second and third toe.

Morton’s toe isn’t a disease but a normal foot shape where the second toe looks longer than the first.

It may cause pain in some people. In very severe cases, toe shortening surgery may be recommended.

Usually, conservative treatments can resolve your pain. Sometimes treatment is as simple as getting a more comfortable pair of shoes. If not, foot doctors have a wide variety of specialized treatment options.