Digital Deformity: When Toes Don't Know Their Place

Dr. Robert Parker
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Dr. Parker is a podiatrist and surgeon in Houston, TX who has been helping patients for more than 40 years.

Digital deformityHaving a digital deformity in your toes can be very frustrating. It can mean pain or discomfort, embarrassment, and difficulty finding shoes that fit your feet. If your child is born with a foot deformity, it is a good idea to get it fixed as soon as possible before the problem becomes more difficult to treat.

What is a Digital Deformity?

People are usually born with digital deformities, meaning that they are congenital and their parents probably suffered the same problem. Children usually do not grow out of the problem, and instead it generally gets worse with time. The deformity may not cause your child any symptoms of pain when they are young, but it is important to get the condition treated while it is still easy to do so. When the toes can still move to their proper position, it is known as a “flexible” deformity, but when they stiffen out of position, it is known as “rigid”. The most common types of foot deformities are underlapping toes, overlapping toes, and hammertoe or mallet toe.

Underlapping/Overlapping Toes

Underlapping toes may also be referred to as congenital curly toes. This condition is thought to occur when your muscles in your feet are not very strong, coupled with an abnormality in the subtalar joint. The result is toes that curl under each other, usually between the fourth and fifth toes. Flexible underlapping toes can be fixed by a tendon release. Rigid may require the removal of bone.

Overlapping toes are when one toe lies on top of the toe next to it. It is commonly found in the fifth toe. Your position in the womb and genetics can play a part in the development of this condition. Conservative treatment can include taping the toes, while more invasive treatment usually requires surgery, such as using a pin to put the toe in the correct position.


Hammertoe is when the toe is curled over in the shape of a hammer or a mallet. This can develop either in childhood due to a joint abnormality, or in adulthood due to improper footwear. This condition can lead to a number of other issues such as black toenail, corns, or calluses. If your child is born with this, it is a good idea to nip it in the bud before it becomes more difficult to deal with. Taping or padding the toe will only relieve your pain; it won’t fix the actual deformity. If it is still flexible you can release a tendon and that should help. If it becomes more rigid it might be necessary to remove bone or fuse it together.

When Should You Seek Medical Attention?

If you or a loved one is suffering from a digital deformity and would like some more information, call Dr. Robert Parker at (281) 497-2850 to schedule an appointment. Parker Foot and Ankle in Houston is dedicated to the foot health of your whole family, all the way down to the youngest members. A toe deformity isn’t something you just have to live with; call and see how we can help you.