Hammer, Claw, and Mallet Toes - Topic Overview
What are hammer, claw, and mallet toes?
Hammer, claw, and mallet toes 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Any medical conditions you have that could be related, such as arthritis, diabetes, or poor circulation.