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Hammer, Claw, and Mallet Toes - Topic Overview

How are hammer, claw, and mallet toes diagnosed? continued...

During the physical exam, your doctor will look at your foot to see if the toe joint is fixed or flexible. A joint that has some movement can sometimes be straightened without surgery. A fixed joint often requires surgery.

If you are thinking about having surgery to correct your problem, you may need:

  • An X-ray to help the doctor decide what type of surgery would be most helpful.
  • Blood flow testing, which may include Doppler ultrasound, if your foot seems to have poor blood flow.
  • Nerve testing if your doctor thinks you have nerve problems in your foot. If this is the case, you may need to see a neurologist, a doctor who specializes in brain, spine, and nerve problems.

How are they treated?

You can probably treat your toe joint problem at home. If you start right away, you may be able to avoid surgery.

  • Change your footwear. Choose shoes with roomy toe boxes, low heels, and good arch supports. Sandals or athletic shoes that don't rub on your toe may be a good option. You could also try custom-made shoes or shoes made for people who have foot problems.
  • Use products that cushion the toe or hold the foot in a more comfortable position, such as moleskin, pads, arch supports, or other shoe inserts (orthotics). These are better for treating a flexible toe, but they can also provide some relief for a fixed toe.
  • Care for any calluses or corns on your feet. Moleskin and other over-the-counter treatments may help relieve pain. Never cut corns or calluses, because this can lead to infection.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen. Check with your doctor before taking these medicines.

If your toe joint is flexible, you can also try:

  • Taping camera.gif a hammer toe. 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. This gently forces the hammer toe into a normal position. But it doesn't straighten the toe permanently.
  • Toe caps, slings, or splints. These hold toes in a normal position, much like taping does.
  • Exercises that help keep the toe joints flexible and strong, such as the ones listed below. Your doctor or physical therapist may be able to suggest more exercises.
    • Gently pull on your toes to stretch the bent joints. For example, if a joint bends up, gently stretch it down. Hold for several seconds. You should feel a long, slow, gentle pull. Work on one joint at a time. Do this several times, morning and evening.
    • Do towel curls camera.gif. Put a towel flat under your feet and use your toes to crumple it.
    • Do marble pickups camera.gif. Use your toes to pick up marbles and drop them in a cup.

Call your doctor if your pain doesn't go away or it gets worse after 2 to 3 weeks of home treatment, or if you get a sore on your affected toe. Sores can get infected and lead to cellulitis or osteomyelitis, especially if you have diabetes or peripheral arterial disease.

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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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