Hammertoe, Claw Toe & Mallet Toe

Hammertoe, claw toe & mallet toe at a glance

  • Hammertoe, claw toe, and mallet toe are conditions that deform the shape of the four smaller toes, leaving them in a curved position. Hammertoe affects the toe’s middle joint; claw toe affects the toe’s middle and end joints; mallet toe affects the toe’s end joint.
  • In addition to the odd shape of the toes, symptoms include pain, sores, and calluses or corns.
  • Toes may have a flexible deformity (some normal movement is possible) or a fixed deformity (the joint can no longer move normally). Without treatment, a flexible deformity may become a fixed deformity.
  • Hammertoe, claw toe, and mallet toe can be treated by wearing roomy footwear, using pads and supports in the shoe, and doing toe exercises. Over-the-counter pain medication may also provide relief. In severe cases, surgery may be an option. Talk to your pharmacist before purchasing anti-inflammatories as these medications may be contraindicated as they may interact with other medications and medical conditions.

Causes of hammertoe, claw toe & mallet toe

Hammertoe, claw toe, and mallet toe develop slowly over years, and are most often caused by wearing tight footwear or high heels. Shoes that force the toes to stay in a bent position for too long cause the muscles to tighten and the tendons to contract. Eventually, the toe muscles cannot straighten the toe, even with shoes off.

These toe deformities may also be inherited, or occur due to complications from other conditions, such as nerve damage from diabetes or spinal cord injuries.

Symptoms of hammertoe, claw toe & mallet toe

Hammertoe, claw toe, and mallet toe each cause a characteristic toe shape, as each condition affects different joints. Generally, these deformities appear in the four smaller toes, not the big toe.

Hammertoe causes the middle joint of the longest of the four toes to bend, giving the toe a hammer-like appearance. Mallet toe also often deforms the longest toe, but causes the joint nearest to the tip of the toe to bend into a mallet shape.

Claw toe typically affects the four smallest toes at the same time, causing them to bend upward at the joints where the toes and the foot meet and downward at both the middle joints and the joints nearest to the tip, so that the toes curl down like claws.

In all three conditions, the patient may experience pain and difficulty straightening the toe(s). Sores, corns and calluses may also be present, as a result of friction on the inside of ill-fitting footwear.

Treatment of hammertoe, claw toe & mallet toe

Nonsurgical treatments are often quite effective in managing the discomfort of hammer, claw, and mallet toes. Wearing roomy footwear with deep, wide toe spaces, good arch support, and low heels may help. In addition, flexible toe deformities may benefit from pads, inserts, or other supports worn in the shoes. Over-the-counter pain reliever medication may reduce the pain associated with these conditions as well.

The regular practice of stretching exercises can help prevent a flexible deformity from becoming a fixed one. Taping or splinting the toes may also help to hold them in a normal position, but unfortunately will not lead to a permanent straightening of the joints.

In very severe cases, surgery may be considered, although it may not return the toe to its original position.

If you have hammer, claw or mallet toes, that cause foot pain that interferes with daily tasks, contact us to request an appointment with our orthopedic foot specialists.