An overlapping toe on one or both feet is fairly common. It may be an inherited condition. It may also result from shoes that are too tight or an underlying foot condition.
An overlapping pinky is the most commonly affected toe. The big toe and second toe can also be involved. It can affect people of all ages, including newborns.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the causes of an overlapping toe and the treatment options for this condition, including for newborns.
Overlapping toes may be inherited or may result from your footwear or the biomechanics of how you walk.
An overlapping toe may be associated with more than one cause. Here are some of the most common causes for adults.
You may be born with an overlapping toe. You also may inherit a bone structure in your foot that later leads to an overlapping toe. A longer second toe, a condition called Morton’s toe, is thought to be associated with overlapping toes.
If your shoes are too small or too tight in the toe box, it can force your little toe out of line. Wearing high heels or pointy-toe shoes can gradually cause a toe to overlap.
Arthritis can cause joint inflammation and stiffness in your feet that may change the alignment of your toes. Rheumatoid arthritis, for example, can change your foot structure and result in a bunion and big toe overlapping.
Your posture and the way you walk can affect your feet and toes.
Also, having a tight calf muscle can put pressure on the ball of your foot and contribute to a bunion and overlapping toe.
- Bunion. Located at the base of the big toe, a bunion can push your big toe over onto your second toe.
- Flat feet. A lack of foot arch is associated with an increased risk of developing an overlapping toe. You can inherit flat feet, or they may develop over time.
- Hammer toe. With a hammer toe, your toe bends down instead of pointing straight forward, which may cause the toe to overlap. A hammer toe may result from a bunion.
- High arches. Either inherited or the result of a medical condition, high arches can lead to a hammer toe and overlapping toe.
- Age. As you grow older, your feet tend to flatten or roll inward. This can lead to several foot issues, including overlapping toes.
- Injury. A foot injury may affect the joints in your toes.
A small percentage of newborns are born with an overlapping toe. Usually it’s a pinky toe that overlaps the fourth toe. Boys and girls are equally affected.
- An overlapping toe is thought to be inherited.
- In some cases the baby’s position in the womb may crowd the toes, causing the pinky to overlap.
25 percentof babies born with an overlapping toe spontaneously recover with no treatment.
In most cases, conservative measures can successfully correct a newborn’s overlapping toe.
- Simply taping the toe is usually effective. A
2007 studyof 44 newborns with an overlapping toe found that 94 percent improved or were cured after 6 months by simply taping the toes in a straight position.
- Gentle stretching and toe spacers. These have been found to be an effective way of correcting an overlapping toe in a newborn.
- Start treatment early. According to research, it’s best to start treatment for an overlapping toe before a child starts to walk. Otherwise, the toe may become rigid and require corrective surgery.
Be sure to follow up with your doctor or a foot specialist if your toe is causing pain. The earlier you treat your overlapping toe, the better the outcome will likely be.
Conservative measures are usually the first step to reduce pain and discomfort from an overlapping toe. If these don’t work, your doctor may recommend surgery.
- Be sure your shoes fit properly. The first step in relieving foot pain is to wear comfortable shoes with a wide toe box. Try to find a specialty shoe store with a trained fitter who can help you find the right size and fit. You can also bring your shoe selection to your foot doctor to help figure out which shoes work and which don’t.
- Use toe separators. You can buy these at most drugstores or online, or your foot doctor may make one for you. There are different types and sizes of separators, so you may have to experiment to find one that works for you.
- Try pads and inserts. If a bunion is causing your big toe to overlap, you can try using shoe inserts to align your foot and toes, or use bunion pads to relieve the pressure.
- Wear a splint. Your doctor may recommend wearing a splint at night to help straighten an overlapping toe. Your doctor may also recommend a prescription orthotic for your shoes.
- Opt for physical therapy. This may be especially helpful if tight muscles and tendons are involved in causing the toe to overlap. A physical therapist will likely also give you exercises to do at home to help straighten your toe, strengthen your foot muscles, and relieve pain.
- Ice your foot. Icing your toe or foot may help relieve pain and inflammation if your overlapping toe is irritated or if a bunion is involved.
- Maintain your weight. For those with overweight, losing excess weight can reduce the pressure on your feet.
Surgery may be recommended if conservative methods don’t help to relieve your pain or straighten your toes.
Surgery may also be the go-to option to correct:
- a severely overlapping pinky toe
- a big toe with a bunion
Symptoms may develop slowly, and may be aggravated if other foot problems are involved.
It’s best to see a doctor early on to prevent your symptoms from getting worse and to find the right kind of treatment to help align your toes correctly.
- Pain. Your toe may rub against your shoe, making it uncomfortable to walk. This can cause your gait to change, which in turn could affect your legs and other muscles.
- Corns. A corn is a small, hard bump that forms on the tops or sides of your toe. It can be sensitive to touch and painful when wearing shoes.
- Calluses. These thickened skin patches form on the bottom or side of your foot. They’re similar to corns, but are usually larger and less painful. Calluses are caused by repeated excess pressure to the skin of your feet.
- Bursitis. This condition is caused by inflammation of the fluid-filled sacs that surround your joints. Shoes that rub against an overlapping toe can cause bursitis in your toe joint.
- Metatarsalgia. This is a painful condition where the ball of your foot becomes inflamed. It may be associated with bunions, high arches, hammer toe, or a long second toe.
Overlapping toes are fairly common and are treatable with conservative measures. Surgery may be recommended if less invasive treatments don’t work. In newborns, simply taping the toe in a straight position has a high success rate.
The cause of an overlapping toe may be hereditary or may develop as you get older. Overlapping toes are often associated with other foot issues, such as bunions and hammer toes.
Follow up with your doctor as soon as you have pain or other symptoms from an overlapping toe. The sooner you treat an overlapping toe, the better the outcome will likely be.