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Hammer, Claw, and Mallet Toes - Topic Overview

How are they treated? continued...

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.

Will you need surgery?

In general, surgery is used only for severe toe problems. You may need surgery if other treatments don't control your pain, if your toe limits activity, or if you can't move the toe joint.

For fixed toe problems, doctors often do surgery on the bones. Doctors can often treat flexible toe problems by moving tendons to release tension on the joint and let the toe straighten. In some cases, the surgery for a flexible toe problem will still include work on the bones.

Your options may include one or more of the following:

  • Removing part of the toe bone. This is called phalangeal head resection, or arthroplasty.
  • Removing part of the joint and letting the toe bones grow together. This is called joint fusion, or arthrodesis.
  • Cutting supporting tissues or moving tendons in the toe joint.
  • Getting a toe implant to replace a bent joint or straighten a toe.
  • In rare cases, removing the toe (amputation).
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