What are hammertoes, mallet toes and claw toes? Often the words are used interchangeably to mean an abnormally contracted toe like the drawing above. Technically speaking, a "hammertoe" is the name for a toe that is contracted at the first toe joint. If it's contracted at the second toe joint it is called a "mallet toe". IIf a toe is contracted at both toe joints, it is called a "claw toe". Each of these conditions can be quite uncomfortable and are cosmetically unappealing.
The APMA says that hammertoe can result from a muscle imbalance in the foot that puts undue pressure on the joints, ultimately causing deformity. Inherited factors can contribute to the likelihood of developing hammertoe. Arthritis, stroke or nerve damage from diabetes or toe injuries such as jamming or breaking hammertoe a toe can affect muscle balance in the foot, leading to hammertoe. The Mayo Clinic says that wearing improper shoes often causes hammertoe. Shoes that squeeze the toes, such as those with a tight toe box or with heels higher than two inches, can put too much pressure on the toe joints.
The most obvious symptom of hammer, claw or mallet toe is the abnormal toe position. This is usually combined with pain: the abnormal foot position leads to excessive friction on the toe as it rubs against any footwear which can be extremely painful. Corns & Calluses: repeated friction can result in the formation of a foot corn or callus on top of the toes. Stiffness, the joints become increasingly stiff. In the early stages, the toes can usually be straightened out passively using your hands, but if allowed to progress, the stiffness may be permanent.
Most health care professionals can diagnose hammertoe simply by examining your toes and feet. X-rays of the feet are not needed to diagnose hammertoe, but they may be useful to look for signs of some types of arthritis (such as rheumatoid arthritis) or other disorders that can cause hammertoe.
Non Surgical Treatment
Hammertoes that are not painful (asymptomatic) and still flexible may not require treatment. In mild cases, open-toed, low-heeled, or wider shoes and foam or moleskin pads can provide symptomatic relief by reducing pressure. Taping (strapping) the affected toe can help to reduce deformity and pain. Physical therapy to instruct patients in exercises that passively stretch tight structures and strengthen weak foot intrinsic muscles is also helpful with mild cases. Periodic trimming (debridement) of corns (clavi, helomata) by a podiatrist can provide temporary relief. Corticosteroid injections are often very effective in reducing pain.
Surgery to correct for a hammertoe may be performed as a day procedure. There are several different types of procedures that can be used depending on the foot structure and if the deformity is flexible or rigid.