Open a PDF version to print this topic

HealthInfo West Coast-Te Tai Poutini

Overlapping toes

Foot with overlapping second toe, which crosses over the big toe, compared with a normal foot. There are also bunions on the foot with an overlapping toeOverlapping toes are toes that turn in and lie on top of the toe next to them. They are also known as over-riding toes.

This condition can affect any toe, but it is most common in the second and little toes. If it's not corrected it can cause extreme irritation, pain, and calluses.

Toe deformities can happen at any age. They are relatively common among babies and very small children, but more common in older people.

Overlapping toes are either fixed (you can't move them back into the correct position) or correctable (you can manually move them).

What causes an overlapping toe?

Babies and children

In babies, it's thought two things can cause overlapping toes: genetics (meaning it runs in families), and the position of the baby in the womb.

Usually when a baby has overlapping toes, one or both of the parents also have overlapping toes; in these cases genetics is probably the cause. If neither of the parents has overlapping toes, it's probably the baby's position in the womb that caused it.

It's rare for children to outgrow overlapping toes, and the condition can gradually become worse if it's not treated. Flexible overlapping toes can become fixed, and fixed overlapping toes can become more painful and lead to problems such as corns and calluses.

Babies can also have another condition called curly toes. This involves the third, fourth, and fifth toes of both feet curling under the foot, rather than one lying on top of the other. This is usually not painful, and the condition usually fixes itself by the time the child is 4 years old.

Adults

Some people gradually develop overlapping toes. This can happen because of foot problems like arthritis and bunions, untreated injuries like broken toes, or shoes that squeeze their toes or have high heels.

How can I avoid getting overlapping toes?

You can't avoid them if you are born with them, but you can stop them from getting worse.

The most important thing is to make sure you wear shoes that fit you properly. Podiatrists suggest you get your feet measured properly. Then, when buying shoes:

When you buy shoes for a child, make sure they are fitted properly, especially at times when the child is growing rapidly.

How are overlapping toes treated?

As long as an overlapping toe isn't painful or affecting the way you walk it doesn't need to be treated.

If it is painful or affecting the way you walk, treatment depends on whether it's correctable or fixed.

Correctable

If it's correctable, strapping your toes together so the overlapping toe is in the right position can help to ease any pain, gradually return the toe to the right alignment, and prevent calluses from forming.

It can help to see a podiatrist or physiotherapist for some exercises to strengthen your foot muscles, or splinting if that is necessary. This can stop the overlapping toe from coming back after strapping has returned it to the correct position.

You will need to pay to see a private podiatrist or physiotherapist. You can find a podiatrist by searching on the Podiatry New Zealand website. You can find a physiotherapist by searching on the Physiotherapy New Zealand website.

Fixed

If your overlapping toe is fixed you may need special shoes with extra depth around the toe to ease any pressure.

It can help to consult a podiatrist to see if orthotics or toe protectors will help.

In the few cases where podiatry and physiotherapy don't help, people with overlapping toes may need surgery. If this applies to you, your GP will refer you to an orthopaedic (bone) surgeon.

Unless the problem is badly affecting your ability to walk you are unlikely to get surgery in the public health system and will have to pay to see a private orthopaedic surgeon.

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by podiatry liaison, Canterbury DHB. Page created March 2017.

Sources

See also:

Bunions

Hammertoe

Mallet toe

Page reference: 345292

Review key: HIAAF-225274