What are hammertoes, mallet toes and claw toes? Often the words are used interchangeably to mean an abnormally contracted toe like the drawing above. Technically speaking, a “Hammer toe” is the name for a toe that is contracted at the first toe joint. If it’s contracted at the second toe joint it is called a “mallet toe”. IIf a toe is contracted at both toe joints, it is called a “claw toe”. Each of these conditions can be quite uncomfortable and are cosmetically unappealing.
Most hammertoes are caused by wearing ill-fitting, tight or high-heeled shoes over a long period of time. Shoes that don’t fit well can crowd the toes, putting pressure on the middle toes and causing them to curl downward. The condition may be more likely when the second toe is longer than the first toe or when the arch of the foot is flat. Hammertoe can also be present at birth (congenital). Hammertoe also can be caused by a bunion, which is the knobby bump that sometimes develops at the side of the big toe. A bunion causes the big toe to bend toward the other toes. The big toe can then overlap and crowd the smaller toes. Occasionally, a hammertoe is inherited or caused by arthritis in the toe joint.
If you have any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to hammer toe. Talk to your doctor about symptoms such as a toe that curls down, corns on the top of a toe, calluses on the sole of the foot or bottom of the toe, pain in the middle joint of a toe, discomfort on the top of a toe, difficulty finding any shoes that fit comfortably, cramping in a toe, and sometimes also the foot and leg, difficult or painful motion of a toe joint, pain in the ball of the foot or at the base of a toe.
Most health care professionals can diagnose hammertoe simply by examining your toes and feet. X-rays of the feet are not needed to diagnose hammertoe, but they may be useful to look for signs of some types of hammertoe arthritis (such as rheumatoid arthritis) or other disorders that can cause hammertoe.
Non Surgical Treatment
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. Avoid over-the-counter corn-removal products, many of which contain acid that can cause severe skin irritation. It’s also risky to try shaving or cutting an unsightly corn off your toe. Foot wounds can easily get infected, and foot infections are often difficult to treat, especially if you have diabetes or poor circulation.
A variety of anaesthetic techniques are possible. Be sure an discuss this with your surgeon during your pre-op assessment. The type of surgery performed will depend on the problem with your toes and may involve releasing or lengthening tendons, putting joints back into place, straightening a toe and changing the shape of a bone.Your surgeon may fix the toes in place with wires or tiny screws.
To help prevent hammertoe, wear roomy, low-heeled shoes that allow plenty of width and length for the toes. The Mayo Clinic recommends wearing shoes that have at least 1/2 inch of space between the shoe and the longest toe.