If your toes are bent in an unusual manner, you likely have a condition known as either hammertoes, mallet toes, or claw toes. These toe deformities all have similarities, including the fact that they can be treated. Your best bet for effective treatment is to address these conditions early, so it’s important to know more about them.
Hammertoes and Related Toe Deformities
There are actually three different, yet closely related, forms of toe deformity that an individual might experience:
- Hammertoes – In this condition, the toe is bent at the middle joint, which causes it to point towards the floor. A hammertoe is most likely to occur in your second toe.
- Mallet Toes – Much like a hammertoe, a mallet toe is also bent downward. The difference is that the bend for this deformity happens at the joint close to the tip of your toe. Mallet toes are also more commonly found in the second toe.
- Claw Toes – Whereas the other two deformities often affect one toe, the claw toe condition will usually be found in all four of the smaller toes. Another key difference is that claw toes have an upwards bend at the metatarsophalangeal joint (where the toes meets the foot), but then they bend down in the other two joints.
These conditions are closely-related and, accordingly, they share several symptoms. The most glaring symptom is that your toes are bent in manners in which they are not intended. Additionally, you will likely experience discomfort and pain while walking and have an increased risk of developing corns or calluses. The heightened risk of corns and calluses stems from the deformed toes rubbing against the insides of shoes and can create problems from individuals who live with diabetes and need to remain vigilant against such conditions.
It is important to note that these conditions, and bunions, are progressive. This means they cannot be undone without the use of surgery. Further, if they will continue to worsen over time if left untreated.
Should your condition still be in early stages, there is a decent chance that we can halt the progression of this toe deformity. At this point, conservative treatments include exercises to strengthen and stretch the affected toe muscles. Changing your footwear to styles that allow your toes to be in their natural position and using custom orthotics or pads will relieve pain and pressure in the area.
In the event that your toe deformity has existed for a while and conservative treatment options are not providing the desired pain relief or mobility, then we may recommend surgery. When this option is placed on the table, we will discuss it so you understand exactly what to expect. Typically, the goal of the procedure is to straighten out your toe by releasing tendons or removing pieces of bone.
Hammertoe Causes and Prevention
There are various causes for these toe deformities, but the most common is poor-fitting footwear, particularly shoes that are either too small or too tight. High heels tend to be a major offender, since they place extra pressure on the toes and often squash them together. Wearing shoes that are the wrong size will have a similar effect on your toes. Besides footwear, hammertoes can be caused by medical conditions—like arthritis or strokes—that affect the muscles and nerves in your feet or a traumatic injury to your foot.
Your first step in preventing a case of hammertoes, claw toes, or mallet toes is to wear shoes that fit properly. Comfortable, supportive footwear will offer ample room in the toe box and allow you to wiggle your toes freely. When you try on a new pair of shoes in the store, see if you can move them easily. If not, move on to the next pair.
When you are shoe shopping, be sure to do so in the early evening or at night. You might not be aware of this, but your feet swell during the course of the day. This means that those shoes that fit well in the morning may become too tight by the time you finally take them off at night.
If you would like additional prevention tips, or require treatment for an existing case of hammertoes, contact Premier Podiatry Group today. Simply schedule an appointment with either our Ebensburg, PA office by calling (814) 409-7373 or use our online form to contact us.
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