toe pain, overlap

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Overlapping Toes Can Cause Pain, Problems

A Monthly Foot Fact From

Are your toes pressed together until they overlap, causing irritation and making it difficult to walk without pain?

According to Dr. Suzanne Belyea, D.P.M., C. Ped. and medical director of, overlapping toes are one of the most common causes of forefoot pain in people of all ages.

"In childhood, the most common occurrence is the overlapping of the fifth toe, caused by a high arch or flat foot," Dr. Belyea says. Children with a high arch put more weight on the outer part of the foot, causing pressure on the toes. The way a flat foot functions can cause hammering of the little toe, leading it to cross over the next toe. In these cases, orthotics can help correct the problem.

In adults, poor-fitting shoes, the cause of so many painful foot conditions, are also usually the culprits. Footwear with a constricting toe box puts pressure on the toes, squeezing them together so that eventually, they begin to overlap. The problem can also start with bunions, protrusions of the end of the big toe's long bone, caused when restrictive toe boxes force the big toe inward. This contributes to overlapping of the inner toes.

"Pain and inflammation are the most common symptoms of overlapping toes. If left untreated, it can become serious, eventually interfering with the normal function of the foot," Dr. Belyea says.

Complications of overlapping toes include soft calluses between the toes or hard calluses on top where the joint is located, due to rubbing on the shoe. Both can be extremely painful.

"The change in bone structure is what causes overlapping toe problems, because two toes are rubbing together," Dr. Belyea explains.

Non-surgical treatment of overlapping toes begins with accommodating the disorder. Sufferers should switch immediately to shoes with a high, broad toe box.

"Podiatrists often recommend forefoot supports such as gel toe straighteners, gel toe caps and toe combs to keep overlapping toes apart. These devices are designed to reduce friction and help relieve discomfort," Dr. Belyea says. There is a relatively simple surgery available to straighten toes out, but surgery is considered a last resort.

It's always a good idea to see a doctor for a correct diagnosis and treatment recommendations, especially if self-treatment does not work.

For more information on overlapping toes and other foot conditions, visit

last update: July 2008

This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should not use this material to diagnose or treat a health condition or disease without consulting with your healthcare provider.
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