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Seventy-five percent of Americans experience foot problems in their lifetime, according to the Illinois Podiatric Medical Association. Many of these foot conditions, including corns, bunions, and hammertoes, usually have one thing in common, overlapping toes.
Painful at the very least, an overlapping toe extends over, or under in the case of an underlapping toe, an adjacent toe. This condition usually leads to foot pain, discomfort, and irritation.
What causes an overlapping toe and what can you do to prevent or fix the problem?
An overlapping toe condition occurs when one of your toes, usually the big toe or pinky toe, extends over the adjacent toe. A similar condition, called an underlapping toe, develops when your toe extends under the adjacent toe.
Referring to the overlapping of your pinky, or fifth, toe. This is typically the most common scenario and is often a result of tight shoes smushing the outside toe against the others.
Another super common condition that is also typically caused by tight shoes. Initially, friction from the shoe will cause a bunion to form, taking away space from the second toe and, in turn, causing the big toe to overlap.
Similar to overlapping toes, this condition usually occurs with toes three, four, and five. These toes tend to move underneath the others. Sometimes thought to be caused by unbalanced muscle strength within the smaller muscles of your foot, but exact cause is still unknown.
Determining the cause of an overlapping toe condition can help you determine the best way to correct the condition and prevent it once corrected. The cause of an overlapping toe usually boils down to one of three basic conditions:
Improperly fitting footwear that is either too tight or doesn't provide enough flex can cause your toes to overlap. The restrictive nature of a too-tight shoe crams your toes together, giving them little room to flex as needed.
Women, especially, can suffer from the affects of an overlapping toe if they wear narrow, high-heeled shoes. The narrowness and angle of these types of shoes promotes the formation of bunions.
Hammertoes often form due to an imbalance in the muscle of your foot caused by an irregular stride. A hammertoe is when one of your toes becomes crooked or misaligned. You can develop a hammertoe condition regardless of age or sex, although sometimes hammertoes are genetic in nature.
A bunion can form due to arthritis, wearing shoes that are too narrow, or genetics. Bunions, sometimes painful in nature, happen when the big toe is pushed toward the second toe. While initially a bunion might not present a problem, eventually the bunion can cause the toe to overlap, causing more serious and painful issues later on.
Some other causes of an overlapping toe include conditions extending from your genetics. This is most often in the form of Morton’s toe, also known as an unusually long second toe. Other causes linked to genetics include stiff tendons and flat feet.
The biggest symptom of an overlapping toe is the pain that often occurs from the condition. The pain is also most often accompanied by inflammation of the toes and irritation caused by the toes rubbing together or rubbing against the side of the surrounding shoe.
If you have overlapping toes, you can also develop corns on your feet. The corns develop due to friction between the toes, mostly on the knuckle area of the toe or the outside of the outer toes.
The pain caused by overlapping toes may cause you to compensate your gait. Naturally. you'll walk to avoid the pain which over time can compromise the way you walk. This can later lead to other problems.
Periodically examining your feet for abnormal changes can be helpful for identifying early stages of overlapping toes ( Image Reference)
Once you are diagnosed with an overlapping toe, you need to act quickly to correct the problem before it gets worse. To correct an overlapping toe condition, you have a few options to choose from, including surgery, changing to looser fitting shoes, and using corrective orthotics, such as spacers and toe loops.
Taking care of your feet at home is simple. Making use of popular products that reduce pain and protect against overlapping toes can make a huge difference. Consider the ones below!
Toe separators and spacers help separate your toes and keep them in the proper alignment. You can find a wide selection of toe separators and spacers online, or your podiatrist can order a custom orthotic designed to help with toe separation.
Toe loops and bandages basically secure your toe to the adjacent toe, holding it in place. The idea behind a loop or bandage is to give extra support to the overlapping toe so it remains properly aligned.
While not as effective as a spacer or separator, a bandage or loop is not as intrusive, allowing you to walk with them in place if necessary.
Corns occur on your feet due to constant friction and pressure, usually on the pad or top of your foot, as well as on the outside of the fifth toe. To protect a corn after it has begun to form, and to help it heal, you can use corn protectors.
Another option is to remove the harder dead skin patch of the corn with a pumice stone and then apply lotion to moisturize the remaining dead skin cells in an effort to soften them.
Ultimately, you need to change the condition causing the formation of the corn, including changing your footwear to shoes that do not rub the area.
Hammertoe crest pads provide another solution to help relieve an overlapping toe condition. The pads do this by relieving the pressure that causes a hammertoe condition.
Made of either gel or foam, the crest pad rests underneath the bottom of your toes directly at the front of your foot.
One extreme treatment option is to get surgery to correct an overlapping toe problem. Most podiatrists like to avoid surgery and seek other treatment options before resorting to it, if possible. But sometimes surgery is the only way to correct an overlapping toe problem.
Once the decision to seek surgery is made, you do have some options. The two surgeries used by podiatrists to treat an overlapping toe include the Butler’s Surgical Correction and DuVries Correction, both covered in more detail below.
Butler’s Surgical Correction is used with an overlapping fifth, or pinky toe. Using this surgery, the surgeon cuts the tendon from the foot to the fifth toe. The tendon is then lengthened, allowing the toe to drop into the correct alignment.
This allows the toe to continue to function normally after healing.
Not as invasive as a Butler’s Surgical Correction, a DuVries Correction involves releasing the ligament between the toes. The toe is not actually moved in the case of a DuVries Correction. This, in turn, releases some of the pressure on the overlapping toe, allowing it to return to its normal position over time.
To prevent an overlapping toe condition from developing in the first place, you should always make sure the toe areas of your shoes provide enough room for your toes to spread out while walking, running, or jumping. This can also help prevent rubbing, a leading contributor to foot problems, such as corns and bunions, and the development of overlapping toe.
While a roomy shoe doesn’t fix a current overlapping toe condition, it can help make you comfortable until you can get the problem corrected.
Illustration of overlapping big toe ( Image Reference)
You may need to visit the podiatrist to determine the extent of your overlapping toe problem. The doctor will ask you questions, examine your feet, and takes x-rays if needed. Ultimately, the podiatrist will recommend a treatment option which typically involves orthotics, surgery, or both.
Although avoid surgery is ideal, it can fix most overlapping toe problems, and as long as you wear the appropriately sized footwear going forward, you should not have any further problems.
Diagnosing and correcting an overlapping toe can help you reduce any pain from the condition. Hopefully, you can avoid surgery by taking precautionary measures, utilizing products for overlapping toes, and wearing appropriate shoes.
Even if surgery is needed, fixing an overlapping toe is relatively easy, although it does require some recovery time. Talk with your podiatrist about which option is best for you and you’ll be on your way to pain-free feet.
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