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Hammer, Claw, and Mallet Toes - Topic Overview

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What are hammer, claw, and mallet toes?

Hammer, claw, and mallet toes slideshow.gif are toes that are bent into an odd position. They may look strange or may hurt, or both. These toe problems almost always happen in the four smaller toes, not the big toe.

  • A hammer toe bends down toward the floor at the middle toe joint. This causes the middle toe joint to rise up. It usually affects the second toe. Hammer toes often occur with bunions.
  • Claw toe often affects the four smaller toes at the same time. The toes bend up at the joint where the toes and the foot meet. They bend down at the middle joints and at the joints nearest the tip of the toes. This causes the toes to curl down toward the floor.
  • A mallet toe bends down at the joint closest to the tip of the toe. It often affects the second toe, but it may happen in the other toes too.

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 don't treat the problem right away, you are more likely to need surgery.

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, or contract. This makes it harder to straighten the toe. Over time, the toe muscles can't straighten the toe, even when you aren't wearing shoes.

These toe problems form over years and are common in adults. Women are affected more often than men because they are more likely to wear shoes with narrow toes or high heels.

Less often, these toe problems are linked with other conditions, such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, stroke, or an injury to the foot or ankle.

What are the symptoms?

Besides looking odd, hammer, claw, and mallet toes may:

  • Hurt.
  • Make it hard to find shoes that fit.
  • Rub against your footwear. You may get calluses or corns where a bent toe presses against another toe or your shoe or where the toe's tip touches the ground.

In more severe cases, these toe problems may affect your balance and make it hard to walk.

How are hammer, claw, and mallet toes diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and past health and do a physical exam. Your doctor will want to know:

  • When the problems started, what activities or shoes make them worse, and if other parts of the foot are painful.
  • What kind of shoes you wear and how much time you spend standing or walking every day.
  • Any previous foot problems you have had.
  • Any medical conditions you have that could be related, such as arthritis, diabetes, or poor circulation.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 04, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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