You may have long believed that your overlapping toe condition is merely cosmetic and not in need of correction, but having overlapping toes is actually a serious problem. It may not seem so when it first occurs, but if left untreated, this form of hammertoe can lead to discomfort and severe irritation, mostly due to the friction caused by toes not being in correct alignment with each other and with the interior surface of a shoe.
Also, an overlapping toe can actually occur to any of the toes on the foot.
What Can Cause Me to Have Overlapping Toes?
Just as the condition is more serious than many people realize, so are the causes more complex. Common wisdom, as we all know, is often wrong. It certainly is so in this case, when common wisdom insists that the cause of overlapping toes is poor footwear because it is too cramped. While it is true that overly tight footwear can exacerbate and worsen the condition of overlapping toes, it is not the only or even the primary cause of this physical condition in most people who suffer it. The root cause of overlapping toes is actually a hammertoe. So then, what is the cause of a hammertoe?
In essence, a hammertoe results from an imbalance between the muscles and tendons of the foot. This imbalance causes the foot to not function as it should, and over time this can lead to the development of a hammertoe, which is turn can develop into overlapping toes. The imbalance that starts this whole process off can actually be induced by months or years of wearing improper footwear, but it can also be part of a person’s genetic inheritance.
Symptoms of Overlapping Toes
Overlapping toes are usually obvious and can be diagnosed by visual inspection. They have the appearance of toes being smashed together to the point where they almost appear to overlap, hence the name. Despite the ease with which overlapping toes can be detected and officially diagnosed, there are some signs and symptoms that usually or almost always accompany the condition. These include all of the following:
- calluses on the toes
- an altered gait when walking
- irritation due to friction
Factors that may cause overlapping toes
Footwear can sometimes be a culprit. Tight shoes can lead to the formation of bunions caused by friction, and these in turn can cause overlapping toes to develop over time. This is particularly true when the bunions form on the big toe, which leads to the second toe not having enough space. As it cramps up, overlapping toes can result.
The worst shoe of all is one that it so tight across the toe box that even when a man or woman is sitting, the toes are being compressed. Less egregious but still quite problematic is the type of shoe that doesn’t flex enough during motions such as walking, running, and jumping. Toes need to flex and move during these activities; if they can’t do so, problems such as overlapping toe and many other foot conditions can develop.
There are various genetic conditions or deformities of the foot that can, over time, cause overlapping toes to develop. These include:
- 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 problematic about the above conditions is that they cause an imbalance to occur in the way your foot tendons and muscles operate. These two bodily structures are supposed to function in concert to manage the stress and strain that standing, walking, running, jumping, and other motions place on your feet.
If you have an imbalance between the muscles and tendons in your foot or feet, it will lead you to walk off center or with another kind of gait that over time causes your toes to bend and align in non standard ways.
Prevention of Overlapping Toes
Several factors may work together to help prevent the formation of overlapping toes in the first place.
- wearing shoes with ample room for the toes
- avoiding high heels whenever possible
- using vitamin supplements to maintain healthy bones and joints
These prevention measures will of course be most effective when the overlapping toes are an acquired problem to begin with. When the overlapping toe condition is a result of genetic factors, it may not be possible to prevent them using such methods as those listed above.
Treatments for Overlapping Toes
The most common treatment of all is for patients with overlapping toes to be instructed to wear appropriate shoes or footwear. The most important criterion men and women need to pay attention to is the size of the “toe box.” This is the portion of the shoe that houses the toes.
Toe boxes should be roomy in all situations, never cramping the toes together or smashing them up against the walls of the shoe. For those who have already developed a condition of overlapping toes, toe boxes must be even more roomy than should previously have been true. This is because the second most common treatment for overlapping toes is the use of various devices that all share a similar function: to keep the toes properly separated. These devices take up space in the toe box – therefore, the shoe must be extra generous in size in order to accommodate them.
Corrective Devices Treatment Option
Conservative treatment options for overlapping toes include both a recommendation to wear improved footwear and the use of corrective devices to keep toes separated. Both of these options are quite common and standard for patients with overlapping toes.
The most common treatment devices to correct the condition of overlapping toes are:
- gel toe straighteners
- toe “combs”
- toe caps
By reducing friction, the devices immediate lessen a patient’s experience of discomfort and pain, and over time the toes will learn to adapt to their new positions in which they do not overlap.
Surgery Treatment Option
This treatment option is not considered conservative. Surgical treatment of overlapping toes is usually reserved for the most serious cases of the problem. In many of these cases, a genetic deformity is at the heart of the problem – such deformities are much less likely to be amenable to conservative treatments such as using gel toe caps.
Overall, just to be safe you should always consult a podiatrist for proper evaluation of your foot problem and head their advice before taking treatments into your own hands.