Hammertoes, Mallet Toes, and Claw Toes

If your toes are bent in an unusual manner, you likely have a condition known as either hammertoes, mallet toes, or claw toes. These toe deformities have similarities, including the fact that they can be treated. Your best bet for effective treatment is to address these conditions early, so it’s important to know more about them.

Three Types of Bent Toes

There are actually three different forms of toe deformity that you might experience:

Hammertoes – In this condition, the toe is bent at the middle joint, which causes it to point towards the floor. A hammertoe will most often occur in your second toe.

Mallet Toes – A mallet toe is also bent downward, but the bend for this deformity happens at the joint closest to the tip of your toe. Mallet toes are also commonly found in the second toe.

Claw Toes – Whereas the other two deformities often affect one toe, the claw toe condition will usually be found in all four of the smaller toes. Another key difference is that claw toes have an upwards bend at the metatarsophalangeal joint (where the toes meets the foot), but then bend down in the other two joints.

Symptoms of Toe Deformities

The three types of bent toes share several symptoms besides the obvious—that your toes are bent in odd positions. You will likely experience discomfort and pain while walking and have an increased risk of developing corns or calluses. The heightened risk of corns and calluses stems from the deformed toes rubbing against the insides of shoes and can create problems for individuals who live with diabetes and need to remain vigilant against foot problems.

Why Your Toes Are a Funny Shape

There are various causes for these toe deformities, but the most common is poor-fitting footwear—particularly shoes that are either too small or too tight. High heels tend to be a major offender, since they place extra pressure on the toes and often squash them together. Wearing shoes that are the wrong size will have a similar effect on your toes. Besides footwear, hammertoes can be caused by medical conditions (arthritis or stroke) that affect the muscles and nerves in your feet or by a traumatic injury to your foot.

Treatment to Straighten Toes

Should your condition still be in early stages, there is a decent chance that your toes can be restored to their natural, normal state. At this point, conservative treatments are often quite effective, including exercises to strengthen and stretch the affected toe muscles. Changing your footwear to styles that allow your toes to be in their natural position and using custom orthotics or pads will relieve pain and pressure in the area.

In the event that your toe deformity has existed for a while and conservative treatment options are not providing the desired correction, pain relief, or mobility, then we may recommend surgery. When this option is placed on the table, we will discuss it with you so you understand exactly what to expect. Typically, the goal of the procedure is to straighten out your toe by releasing tendons or removing pieces of bone.

Preventing Bent Toes

Your first step in preventing a case of hammertoes, claw toes, or mallet toes is to wear shoes that fit properly. Comfortable, supportive footwear will offer ample room in the toe box and allow you to wiggle your toes freely. When you try on a new pair of shoes in the store, see if you can move them easily. If not, move on to the next pair.

When you are shoe shopping, be sure to do so in the early evening or at night. You might not be aware of this, but your feet swell during the course of the day. This means that those shoes that fit well in the morning may become too tight by the time you finally take them off at night.

If you would like additional prevention tips, or require treatment for an existing case of hammertoes, contact Capital District Podiatry today. Simply schedule an appointment with either our Troy or Clifton Park, NY offices by calling (518) 273-0053 or use our online form to contact us.


Troy Office

763 Hoosick Rd.
Troy, NY 12180

Clifton Park Office

855 Route 146 | Suite 150
Clifton Park, NY 12065

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