Overlapping Toes

Related Conditions:

If your toes appear crooked or misshapen, chances are you
have hammertoes.

Hammertoes, sometimes known as clawed toes, crooked toes or
mallet toes, can form on your feet regardless of age or sex.


A muscle imbalance from an unnatural walk is one of the top causes of hammertoes, though genetics can also play a role their development.

  • Do you have a very long second toe? Is the top of that toe often crowded into a bent position?
  • Do you have a stiff tendon that prohibits a toe from resting flat?
  • Is a bunion on your big toe forcing your second toe into a cramped position?

If you answered YES to any of these questions, you could have hammertoes.

Other common causes include:

  • Ill-fitting shoes that put pressure on the toes in an
    unnatural way.
  • High-arched feet where the tendon on the top of the foot
    pulls back on the toes.


Hammertoes form when your foot is flattened, and greater than usual stress is placed on your foot. (People with flat feet, then, are especially
at risk.)

The onset of hammertoes takes the form of calluses. Ongoing chafing leads to corns or, on occasion, ulcers. As the tendons on the bottom of your feet try to stabilize each foot, the muscles controlling the toes feel the added pressure, and your toes pull back, forcing the knuckles to become prominent. Hammertoes then result.

As the condition worsens, walking can become extremely painful and difficult. The misshapen hammertoes may hit shoes at the wrong spots, causing friction. Fashionable shoes are not made to accommodate distorted hammertoes. As contact continues between gnarled hammertoes and the shoe, irritation sets in.

Once hammertoes are fully retracted, it is difficult to straighten them out.

Relief and Prevention:

The easiest way to avoid developing hammertoes, especially if you have flat feet, is to make sure your shoes have a wide toe box. Shoes that provide extra depth and more room help relieve the pressure put on feet from standing and walking.

Other ways to treat hammertoes include:

  • Use corn pads and cushions for temporary relief from hammertoe pain caused by friction.
  • If your hammertoes stem from flat feet, shoe inserts and orthotics can help provide support, encouraging the muscles
    to work together as a team.

If you have hammertoes, and your toes look severely bent and cannot be straightened out with treatment, surgery may be required. See a podiatrist for a consultation.

Overlapping Toes, Pinched Toes:

Some people may also be diagnosed with different forms
of hammertoes:

  • Overlapping toes, when your toes rest on top of each other, can cause discomfort due to friction. Sufferers can relieve pain by wearing shoes with a wide toe box, or by adding supports like gel toe straighteners, gel toe caps and toe comps to keep toes separated.
  • Pinched toes, the term given to toes that mash and rub against each other so much that soft corns develop, can also cause pain. Sufferers can relieve discomfort by taking measures to keep toes apart. Again, wear shoes with a large toe box for ample wiggle room, and wear products such as toe caps, toe spacer cushions and toe separators to treat painful symptoms.