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. The differences between hammertoe and mallet toe are subtle. Both conditions 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.
Both hammertoe and mallet toe can cause your toe to press against the top of the toe box of your shoe, causing pain and pressure. In addition, you may have pain from a hard growth of skin (corn) on the top of your toe that can form where your toe rubs against your shoe. Pain may also result from calluses that develop under the tip of your toe or on the ball of your foot.
Unlike a bunion, which affects only your big toe, hammertoe and mallet toe can affect any toe. Most commonly, hammertoe and mallet toe occur in your second toe. Generally, both joints of the toe are affected, causing your toe to bend upward in the middle, giving it a hammer-like or claw-like appearance.
Aside from wearing crowded shoes, hammertoe and mallet toe may result from muscle and nerve damage (neuropathy) caused by conditions such as diabetes, stroke, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Relieving the pain and pressure may involve changing footwear and wearing shoe inserts. More severe cases may require surgery.
Signs and symptoms of hammertoe and mallet toe may include:
- <LI class=doublespace>A hammer-like or claw-like appearance of a toe <LI class=doublespace>In mallet toe, a deformity at the end of the toe, giving the toe a mallet-like appearance <LI class=doublespace>Pain and difficulty moving the toe
- Corns and calluses resulting from the toe rubbing against the inside of your footwear
Both hammertoe and mallet toe can cause pain with walking and other foot movements.
Screening and diagnosis
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.
Your doctor can diagnose hammertoe or mallet toe by examining your foot.
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 precise procedure depends on how much flexibility is left in your toe.
- <LI class=doublespace>If your toe has some flexibility, your doctor may straighten it by making an incision in the toe and releasing the tendon.
- If your toe is rigid, your doctor may not only cut or realign tendons but also remove some pieces of bone to straighten your toe. This procedure may require that the bones be fixed temporarily with pins while your toe heals.
Usually, you can go home from the hospital on the day of your toe surgery.