What to Know About Overlapping Toes

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 25, 2021
3 min read

While overlapping toes aren’t dangerous, they can be a significant cause of foot pain.

Anyone from newborns to older adults can have overlapping toes. The most common toe affected is the little one. Many people have an overlapping pinky toe at some point in their life. Causes of overlapping toes include:

Heredity. Some people are born with an overlapping toe. Most commonly, the pinky toe overlaps or underlaps the fourth toe. Family members often spot the congenital deformity of an overlapping toe early in an infant’s life.

People may also inherit conditions that make it more likely that they’ll develop an overlapping toe later in life. For example, the condition of Morton’s toe — in which the second toe is longer than the first — is genetic, and the irregular length may make a person more vulnerable to overlapping toes.

Overpronation. The way that you walk and stand can affect your foot health. When your foot and ankle roll inward while you walk, it’s called overpronation, and it’s associated with the development of overlapping toes.

Other Foot Conditions. Other foot conditions may cause overlapping toes. For example, hammertoe or mallet toe, where your toe bends downward instead of extending straight out, can lead to overlap.

Other foot conditions associated with overlapping toes include:

Some of these are more common with age or obesity.

Rheumatoid Arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis sometimes alters a person’s foot structure to such an extent that they may require surgery to treat it.

Overlapping toes can lead to foot pain when they cause toes to rub against shoes or to bear an unequal amount of weight. You may get calluses or painful corns as a result.

Another secondary condition caused by overlapping toes is metatarsalgia, when the ball of the foot becoming inflamed and tender.

There are many options when it comes to overlapping toe treatment. Most of the time, the problem can be resolved by non-invasive methods such as physical therapy and proper footwear.

Manual Separation. If your baby has an overlapping toe, you can likely improve or even cure it by taping the toes into a straight position. In one study, 94% of the toes were cured or improved within six months of starting treatment. Start the therapy early. The longer that you wait, particularly if you begin after the child has begun walking, the higher the chance that toes will become rigid and require surgery.

Adults can also benefit from tape and over-the-counter toe separators. If the overlapping isn’t too pronounced, you may even be able to fix the issue.

Orthotic Footwear. Foot specialists can make recommendations for specialty footwear that will ease pressure and correct your overlapping toe. Over-the-counter solutions may help with overpronation and flat feet.

Physical Therapy. Tight muscles and misaligned joints can contribute to overlapping problems. Physical therapy can help correct these things.

Surgery. If other approaches fail to correct the issue, you may need surgery. Large bunions and severely overlapping fifth toes are more likely to need more invasive measures.