What are hammer, claw, and mallet toes?
Hammer, claw, and mallet toes are
toes that do not have the right shape. They may look odd or may hurt, or both.
The muscles that control your toes get out of balance and cause the toe to bend
into an odd position at one or more joints. These toe problems almost always
happen in the four smaller toes, not the big toe.
If you notice
that your toe looks odd or hurts, talk to your doctor. You may be able to fix
your toe with home treatment. If you do not treat your toe right away, you are
more likely to need surgery.
These toe problems develop over years
and are common in adults. Women have more of these problems than men because of
the types of shoes they may wear, such as high heels.
What causes hammer, claw, and mallet toes?
Tight shoes are the
most common cause of these toe problems. Wearing tight shoes can cause the toe
muscles to get out of balance. Two muscles work together to straighten and bend
the toes. If a shoe forces a toe to stay in a bent position for too long, the
muscles tighten and the
tendons shorten (contract). This makes it harder to
straighten the toe. Over time, the toe muscles cannot straighten the toe, even
if you are not wearing shoes.
Less common causes include:
- Problems in foot structure at birth. This may run in families.
- Joint diseases, such as
- Brain, spinal cord,
or nerve injury (especially in the case of claw toe). Examples include
cerebral palsy, and
degenerative disc disease.
- Not using your
toe. Having to stay in bed for a long period of time may cause muscles to
shorten (contractures). This may lead to toe
- Poor blood flow to your feet (peripheral arterial disease).
- Having little or no "feeling" in your feet (peripheral neuropathy). This is common in people with diabetes.
such as breaking a toe.
What are the symptoms?
Pain and a toe that looks odd are symptoms of hammer, claw, and mallet
toes. The toe may rub against your footwear, and you may have trouble finding
shoes that fit.
- A hammer toe is a toe that bends down toward
the floor at the middle toe joint. It usually happens in the second toe. This
causes the middle toe joint to rise up. Hammer toes often occur with
- Claw toe often happens in the
four smaller toes at the same time. The toes bend up at the joints where the
toes and the foot meet. They bend down at both the middle joints and at the
joints nearest the tip of the toes. This causes the toes to curl down toward
- A mallet toe often happens in the second toe, but it
may happen in the other toes as well. The toe bends down at the joint closest
to the tip of the toe.