Hammertoe and mallet toe
Hammertoe and mallet toe
A hammertoe is a toe that's curled due to a bend in the middle joint of a toe. Mallet toe is similar, but affects the upper joint of a toe. Otherwise, any differences between hammertoe and mallet toe are subtle.
Both hammertoe and mallet toe are commonly caused by shoes that are too tight in the toe box or shoes that have high heels. Under these conditions, your toe may be forced against the front of your shoe, resulting in an unnatural bending of your toe and a hammer-like or claw-like appearance.
Relieving the pain and pressure of hammertoe and mallet toe may involve changing your footwear and wearing shoe inserts. If you have a more severe case of hammertoe or mallet toe, you may need surgery to experience relief.
Signs and symptoms of hammertoe and mallet toe may include:
Both hammertoe and mallet toe can cause pain with walking and other foot movements.
When to see a doctor
A hammertoe is a toe that's curled due to a bend in the middle joint of the toe. ...
A common cause of hammertoe and mallet toe is wearing improper footwear — shoes that are too tight in the toe box or shoes that have high heels. Wearing shoes of either type can push your toes forward, crowding one or more of them into a space that's not large enough to allow your toes to lie flat.
Hammertoe and mallet toe deformities can also be inherited and may occur despite wearing appropriate footwear.
The result is a toe that bends upward in the middle and then curls down in a hammer-like or claw-like shape. Your shoes can rub against the raised portion of the toe or toes, causing painful corns or calluses. The bottom of the affected toe can press down, creating the mallet-like appearance of mallet toe.
At first, a hammertoe or mallet toe may maintain its flexibility and lie flat when you're not wearing crowded footwear. But eventually, the tendons of the toe may contract and tighten, causing your toe to become permanently stiff.
Other causes of hammertoe and mallet toe may include:
Preparing for your appointment
If you're having problems with your feet, you're likely to start off by seeing your primary care doctor. In some cases, however, your primary care doctor may refer you to a foot specialist (podiatrist).
What you can do
Also, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment if you're unclear about what your doctor is telling you.
What to expect from your doctor
What you can do in the meantime
If you have calluses on the tops of your affected toes, you may want to try using over-the-counter pads that protect your toes from rubbing against your shoe. Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others), may help relieve your pain.
Tests and diagnosis
Your doctor can diagnose hammertoe or mallet toe by examining your foot.
Treatments and drugs
If your toe is still flexible, your doctor may recommend that you change to roomier and more comfortable footwear and that you wear shoe inserts (orthotics) or pads. Wearing inserts or pads can reposition your toe and relieve pressure and pain.
If your toe has become tight and inflexible, your doctor may recommend surgery. The specific procedure depends on how much flexibility is left in your toe:
Usually, you can go home from the hospital on the day of your toe surgery.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Wearing proper footwear may ease your foot pain. Low-heeled shoes with a deep toe box and flexible material covering the toes may help. Make sure there's a half-inch of space between your longest toe and the inside tip of your shoe. Allowing adequate space for your toes will help relieve pressure and pain.
In addition, your doctor may suggest exercises you can do at home or at work to strengthen your toe muscles. These may include:
Don't try to remove a corn yourself using such methods as over-the-counter acid treatment, cutting or shaving. Home treatments can cause serious problems, especially if you have diabetes or poor circulation. Breaking the skin could result in an infection — in some cases, an infection serious enough to require amputation.
You can avoid many foot, heel and ankle problems with shoes that fit properly. Here's what to look for when buying shoes:
These additional tips may help you buy the right shoes:
Last Updated: 2010-08-21
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