The most common reason for toe deformities is when tight shoes are worn and the toes are compressed into an abnormal position. When this happens repeatedly, the toes remain in this abnormal position. High heeled shoes are especially notorious for causing these deformities.
Each of the lesser toes (all but the big toe) has three bones and deformities are due to the abnormal position of the bones at the joints between the bones.
Hammer toe occurs when the middle of the toe points upwards abnormally. This usually occurs in the second toe and is frequently the result of a big toe bunion pushing on the second toe. A painful callous often forms on to on the first joint in the toe. Because of the progressive nature of hammer toes, they should receive early attention. Hammer toes never get better without some kind of intervention.
Claw toes appear as the name would describe like a clenched fist. While most other toe deformities are the result of footwear, claw toes are the result of muscle imbalance. The cause of the imbalance may be rheumatoid arthritis, neuromuscular disorders, a stroke, or other conditions.
The mallet toe is the deformity where the most distant joint points downward. This is most common in the second toe in patients whose second toe is the longest toe. A painful callous can form at the tip of a mallet toe.
What is the treatment for these toe problems?
Ignoring the symptoms of deformities of the toes can aggravate these conditions and lead to a breakdown of tissue, or even infection. Conservative treatment starts with accommodating the deformity. The goal is to relieve pressure, reduce friction, and transfer force from the sensitive areas.
Your foot and ankle surgeon will discuss the options and select a plan tailored to your needs. Among other concerns, he or she will take into consideration the type of shoes you want to wear, the number of toes involved, your activity level, your age, and the severity of the condition.
Treatment for a claw toe, hammer toe, or mallet toe is first to wear more comfortable footwear. Special pads and orthotics are made to protect the toes and even to correct the deformity. Usually problems arise from painful calluses and corns forming around the deformities. When someone has an abnormal toe, it tends to rub on footwear and cause problems. Protecting these problem areas with pads will often control the symptoms.
If surgery is recommended, it is important to fully understand and follow the recommendations of your surgeon before and after the procedure.
Surgical treatments are aimed at loosening up the contracted toe joints to allow them to align properly. A fusion between the bones may also be necessary to prevent a recurrence of the problem.