Sure, they may look a little strange, but overlapping toes are not a serious condition, right? Maybe, maybe not. This might seem to be the case when they first occur, but chronic discomfort and severe irritation from toe deformities bring many patients to see our foot doctors at McDowell Orthopedics & Podiatry Group.
We can provide the treatment you need when the issues become severe, but earlier care can help prevent a manageable condition from devolving into one that requires a surgical procedure.
Overlapping Toe Causes
Toes that overlap are most commonly either the big or little toe of the foot, but this problem can actually happen to any of the lower digits. You might look at underlying issues like hammertoes and bunions and dismiss them as mere annoyances that develop because of shoes that do not fit correctly.
Although footwear can exacerbate a developing or existing condition, the primary causes are actually structural imbalances in the feet. In the case of overlapping toes caused by bunions, this imbalance takes place in the joint located at the base of the big toe – the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint. With a bunion, the big toe drifts inwards and the MTP joint pushes out along the inner edge of the foot. In severe cases, the big toe will begin to overlap the toe next to it.
Bunionettes are related conditions that can develop on the other side of the foot. When a joint imbalance causes the little toe, instead of the big one, to drift inwards, it can eventually, if left untreated, overlap the fourth toe that neighbors it.
For hammertoes—and the related claw and mallet toe deformities—the imbalance isn’t found in a joint, but rather with the muscles and tendons located on the tops and bottoms of the toes. Weaker muscles are overpowered by stronger ones on the opposite side, which leads to a condition where toes bend down in an unnatural manner. When this happens, an affected toe can then drift sideways and overlap a neighboring digit.
Other genetic conditions or deformities could also be at play:
- Morton’s toe (an unusually long second toe)
- Stiff tendons – these keep the foot from flattening against the ground
- Various other inherited foot conditions
What is particularly concerning about these is that the imbalance can affect how foot muscles and tendons operate. These two soft tissues are intended to function in concert to manage the physical stress and strain that come from walking, running, jumping, and even simply standing. When a tendon pulls too hard and the muscles are unable to properly counterbalance, the gait cycle may be affected and cause new issues.
Overlapping Toe Symptoms
These deformities are typically quite obvious and easily diagnosed during visual inspection. The toes are being pushed together to the point where they seem to, or actually do, overlap. In addition to these visual cues, there are some other symptoms to note as well:
- an altered gait when walking
- irritation due to friction
- toes rubbing against the interior of footwear
- calluses on the toes
Treatment for Overlapping Toes
Given the progressive nature of the conditions that cause toes to overlap, it is important to seek treatment at the earliest possible stage. Doing so increases the likelihood that conservative treatment methods will be able to relieve symptoms and prevent the condition from worsening.
In cases of bunions, hammertoes, and other toe deformities, surgery is often the only way to truly correct the condition. When we recommend this course of treatment, we will carefully discuss the options with you so you can know what to expect and make any necessary arrangements to prepare for your procedure and postoperative care.
Expert Foot and Ankle Care in Sacramento, CA
McDowell Orthopedics & Podiatry Group is proud to provide comprehensive foot and ankle care for all of our patients from across the greater Sacramento, CA community. Contact us for more information by calling (916) 961-3434 or request an appointment with our Carmichael podiatrist office online today.