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 "Hammer Toe" 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.
Many people develop hammertoe because they wear shoes that are too tight. Shoes with narrow toe boxes squeeze the toes together, forcing some to bend. This causes the toe muscles to contract. If the toes are forced into this cramped position too often, the muscles may permanently tighten, preventing the toes from extending. Chronic hammertoe can also cause the long bones that connect the toes to the foot, called metatarsals, to move out of position. The misaligned metatarsal bones may pinch a nerve running between them, which can cause a type of nerve irritation called a neuroma.
The most obvious sign of hammertoes are bent toes, other symptoms may include pain and stiffness during movement of the toe. Painful corns on the tops of the toe or toes from rubbing against the top of the shoe's toe box. Painful calluses on the bottoms of the toe or toes. Pain on the bottom of the ball of the foot. Redness and swelling at the joints.
A hammertoe is usually diagnosed with a physical inspection of your toe. Imaging tests, such as X-rays, may be ordered if you have had a bone, muscle, or ligament injury in your toe.
Non Surgical Treatment
Try to find shoes that are soft, roomy, and comfortable and avoid tight shoes or shoes with high heels. A shoe repair shop may be able to stretch a small pocket in regular shoes to make room for the hammertoe. Have a professional pedicure. Sometimes a skilled manicurist can file down a painful corn. Follow your healthcare provider's instructions. Ask your provider what activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities, how to take care of yourself at home, what symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them. Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.
If these treatments are not sufficient at correcting the hammer toe, an operation to straighten the toe may be necessary. This is often performed in conjunction with surgery for a bunion deformity. The surgical treatment of a hammer toe can consist of either cutting the tendons to relieve the pressure that causes the deformity, or fusing the toe so that it points straight permanently.
Prevention of a hammertoe can be difficult as symptoms do not arise until the problem exists. Wearing shoes that have extra room in the toes may eliminate the problem or slow down the deformity from getting worse. Sometimes surgery is recommended for the condition. If the area is irritated with redness, swelling, and pain some ice and anti-inflammatory medications may be helpful. The best prevention may be to get advice from your podiatrist.