You can often use nonsurgical
methods to treat
hammer, claw, and mallet toes. These include wearing
roomy footwear, using pads and supports in your shoe, and doing toe exercises.
These measures provide room for the toe to straighten, cushion the toe and hold
it in a straightened position, and stretch
the toes so that they are more
flexible. You can take medicine to treat pain. Surgery is an option if
nonsurgical treatment does not control pain, your toe joint deformity limits
your activity, or you cannot move the toe joint.
The goals of
treatment are to relieve pain so that your hammer, claw, or mallet toe does not
limit your activities and to prevent the problem from getting worse. Even if
your toes remain bent, your doctor will consider the treatment a success if he
or she can relieve or reduce your pain enough to make you comfortable.
Initial and ongoing treatment
It is usually best
to use nonsurgical treatment for
hammer, claw, or mallet toes first. Treatment options
fixed and flexible toe joint deformities include:
- Changing footwear. Shoes should be
roomy, with wide and deep toe boxes (the area that
surrounds the toes), low heels, and good arch supports. This provides room for
your toe to straighten and prevents your toe deformity from rubbing or pressing
against the shoe. One option is to wear custom-made shoes or shoes made for people who have foot problems.
- Foot Problems: Finding the Right Shoes
moleskin, pads, arch supports, or other
orthotic shoe inserts. These products may cushion the
toe or hold the foot and toes in a more comfortable position. They are better
for treating a flexible deformity, but they also provide some relief for a
fixed deformity. Your health professional can show you how to put pads or
inserts in your shoe.
- Taking nonprescription
pain relievers. Examples include acetaminophen, such as Tylenol, and
nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as
ibuprofen, aspirin , or naproxen. Check with your doctor before
taking these medicines.
- Taking prescription pain relievers, which
you may need if you have severe pain.
- Getting a corticosteroid
injection, which may reduce pain and
inflammation for a period of time. But this does not
change the joint structure causing the toe pain and is not commonly used. Your
toe joint may be more painful for several days after the injection than it was
before the injection.
- Caring for any
calluses or corns on your toes or feet. Moleskin and
other nonprescription treatments for corns or calluses may help relieve pain
and burning. Never cut corns or calluses by yourself, because this can lead to
home treatment for calluses or corns.
Nonsurgical treatment specifically for
flexible toe joint deformities includes:
- Taping or splinting
hammer toes into place. Wrap tape under the big toe (or the toe next to the
hammer toe), then over the hammer toe, and then under the next toe, gently
forcing the hammer toe into a normal position. You may use a splint for the
same purpose. Wrapping a toe does not straighten the toe
- Using toe caps or toe slings. These hold toes in a
normal position, much like wrapping the toes with tape.
- Doing stretching exercises that help
keep the toe joints flexible so that you can bend and straighten them. To do
stretching exercises, gently pull on your toes to stretch the bent joints in
the other direction, and hold the stretch for several seconds at a time. For
example, if a joint bends up, gently stretch it down. Work on just one joint at
a time. You should feel a long, slow, gentle pulling. Do this stretching
several times in the morning and several times in the evening. To work on
strength, try putting a
towel flat under your feet and using your toes to
crumple it and using your toes to pick up things, such as
marbles . Your doctor, nurse, or physical therapist may
be able to recommend more exercises.
Treatment if the condition gets worse