The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Hey Shorty–Short Toes

Posted by on Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

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I have been a short person all my life, so I feel pretty comfortable in saying that the world prefers taller people. Tall people are more glamorous, they’re more desirable as athletes, and they can reach anything they want on the grocery store shelves. Even tall toes are good–or long toes, I guess I should say. A long second toe, known as a Morton’s toe, is considered a sign of beauty.  Okay, they’re vulnerable to some foot conditions but the ancient Greeks included long second toes on statues to indicate how beautiful these women were! Top that.

You can’t. And just as tall people have many benefits that short people do not have, so do short toes lack the glamor of long toes. The condition of short toes doesn’t even have a catchy “named after a person” moniker, like long toes do with Morton. An unusually short toe is known as brachymetatarsia.

Brachymetatarsia? That sounds like a dinosaur. Indeed it does. If more than one toe is short, the condition is called brachymetapody.

Tell me more about this enchantingly named condition. It usually affects the fourth toe, or second smallest, though as noted above, it can be found in other toes. It usually occurs in both feet.

What causes the toe to hang back like that? Is it just shy? No, short toes can be the life of the party as much as any other toe. It happens when the growth plate of the metatarsal (long foot bone that connects to the toe) closes up too soon, resulting in a short bone. This could be genetic, or the result of some trauma, such as an infection or injury.

Is there any reason I should worry about a brachymetatarsia, other than it just being a little, well, weird looking? When you walk, pressure rolls through your foot from your fifth, or little toe, to the big toe. If the fourth toe is short and drifting upwards, it can’t take its portion of the pressure, forcing the fifth and third toes to do more. The result is forefoot pain and pain in the other toes. Additionally, as the fourth toe floats upward, it may rub against the top of shoes, causing corns.

What are the symptoms? Your toe is shorter than your other toes.

Oh, right. Well, what do we do about it? The conservative treatment is to put in padding to protect the toe, or choose shoes with very roomy toe boxes that won’t rub on the toe. A podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) can custom-fit you for orthotics to help distribute weight better through the other toes.

There are surgical treatments to lengthen the toe. One is a bone graft. Another is to break the toe and put an external device on it. As the broken toe heals, the patient turns a screw on the device a little bit each day, lengthening the rebuilding bone. Eventually the device is removed. It takes about two months.

So don’t cry like a baby if your toe is short, you do have some options. The important thing is to talk to your podiatrist and find out what’s the right thing for you to do!

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.