Hammer, Claw, and Mallet Toes: How our Ballantyne Podiatrist Treats Toe Deformities

November 12, 2019

Hammer toes, claw toes, and mallet toes vary slightly from each other, but they all have the same thing in common: they are toes which are bent into an odd or uncomfortable position. In some cases, toe deformities are harmless, and may only need to be corrected for cosmetic reasons. But in other cases, they may cause discomfort and pain. Below is more information on toe deformities from our Ballantyne foot doctor.

The 3 Main Toe Deformities

There are three main types of toe deformities:

  • A hammer toe bends down toward the floor at the middle toe joint, causing the middle toe joint to rise up. Hammer toe usually affects those with bunions, and most commonly affects the second toe.
  • Claw toe occurs when the toes bend upwards at the joint where the toes and the foot meet, and down at the middle joints and at the joints nearest the tip of the toes. This causes the toes to curl down toward the floor, hence the term “claw.”
  • Mallet toes bend down at the joint closest to the tip of the toe. It often affects the second toe, but it may affect other toes too.

What Causes Hammer, Claw, and Mallet Toes? 

The most common cause of toe deformities is tight, ill-fitting shoes. Improperly-fitted shoes can force the toe muscles to stay in a bent position for too long, causing the toe muscles and tendons to tighten and contract. Over time, the toe muscles can’t straighten the toe, even when the patient is barefoot. Because ill-fitting shoes is the most common cause, women are affected much more than men, especially women who consistently wear high heels. Occasionally, toe deformities can be caused by other conditions, like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or a foot or ankle injury.

How to Treat Toe Deformities at Home

Mild toe deformities can be treated at home and do not require a podiatrist. You may be able to improve your condition by:

  • Changing your footwear to more comfortable options.
  • Use over-the-counter products that cushion the toe, such as moleskin, toe tubes, and shoe inserts.
  • Use medical tape to wrap the toe into a more normal position.
  • Use toe caps, slings, or splints to hold toes in a normal position. Consult a podiatrist before pursuing this option.
  • Performing exercises to keep the toes flexible and strong.
  • Work with a podiatrist or physical therapist to stretch and strengthen the toes.

When to Seek Professional Help from a Ballantyne Podiatrist

If your pain does not go away, or worsens after 2-3 weeks of home treatment, it is important to schedule an appointment with a foot and ankle doctor before the condition worsens. It is especially important to see a podiatrist if you develop a sore, which could get infected and lead to a serious disease like cellulitis. Your podiatrist will be able to recommend stronger treatment options. In very serious cases, foot surgery may be an option. To request an appointment with a Ballantyne foot surgeon, contact Ryan Foot and Ankle Clinic here.