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A hammertoe is a toe that's curled due to a bend in the middle joint of a toe. Mallet toe is similar, but affects the upper joint of a toe. Otherwise, any differences between hammertoe and mallet toe are subtle. Both hammertoe and mallet toe are commonly caused by shoes that are too short or heels that are too high. Under these conditions, your toe may be forced against the front of your shoe, resulting in an unnatural bending of your toe and a hammer-like or claw-like appearance. Relieving the pain and pressure of hammertoe and mallet toe may involve changing your footwear and wearing shoe inserts. If you have a more severe case of hammertoe or mallet toe, you may need surgery to experience relief.
Causes of Hammer Toes
A common cause of hammertoe and mallet toe is wearing improper footwear — shoes that are too tight in the toe box, or high-heel shoes. Wearing shoes of either type can push your toes forward, crowding one or more of them into a space that's not large enough to allow your toes to lie flat. Hammertoe and mallet toe deformities can also be inherited and may occur despite wearing appropriate footwear. The result is a toe that bends upward in the middle and then curls down in a hammer-like or claw-like shape. Your shoes can rub against the raised portion of the toe or toes, causing painful corns or calluses. The bottom of the affected toe can press down, creating the mallet-like appearance of mallet toe. At first, a hammertoe or mallet toe may maintain its flexibility and lie flat when you're not wearing crowded footwear. But eventually, the tendons of the toe may contract and tighten, causing your toe to become permanently stiff.
Other causes of hammertoe and mallet toe may include:
Signs & Symptoms of Hammer Toes
Signs and symptoms of hammertoe and mallet toe may include:
Both hammertoe and mallet toe can cause pain with walking and other foot movements.
Diagnosis of Hammer Toes
Your doctor can diagnose hammertoe or mallet toe by examining your foot.
Treatments of Hammer Toes
If your toe is still flexible, your doctor may recommend that you change to roomier and more comfortable footwear and that you wear shoe inserts (orthotics) or pads. Wearing inserts or pads can reposition your toe and relieve pressure and pain. If your toe has become tight and inflexible, your doctor may recommend surgery. The specific procedure depends on how much flexibility is left in your toe:
Usually, you can go home from the hospital on the day of your toe surgery.
Prevention of Hammer Toes
You can avoid many foot, heel and ankle problems with shoes that fit properly. Here's what to look for when buying shoes:
These additional tips may help you buy the right shoes:
When to seek Medical Advice
See your doctor if you have foot pain that's persistent and that affects your ability to walk properly and carry out other motions with your foot. Also, see your doctor if one or more of your toes has developed a clenched or claw-like appearance.
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