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Hammer, Claw, and Mallet Toes - Topic Overview

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.

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, toe tubes, 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, or naproxen. Check with your doctor before taking these medicines. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
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