SUMMARY: Do you have a toe or couple of toes that look odd? Are they painful? You might have hammer, claw, or mallet toes! Don’t ignore these problems as they can worsen and eventually require surgery. Find out now how you can treat them at home.
Toes that have taken strange positions or cause pain may be hammer, claw, or mallet toes. These problems almost always affect the four small toes and not the big toe.
What are hammer, claw, and mallet toes?
A hammer toe bends down to the floor at the toe’s middle joint, causing the middle joint to rise up. Hammer toes typically occur with bunions and often affects the second toe.
A claw toe usually affects all four small toes. The toes bend upward at the joint where the foot and toes meet, and bend downward at the middle joints and joints near the tip of the toes.
A mallet toe bends down at the joint that is closes to the toe’s tip. The second toe is usually affected, but it can occur to other toes as well.
If you have a toe that looks odd or is painful, see a doctor immediately. Home treatments may be enough to fix this toe problem. If you ignore the problem, there will be a bigger chance that you’ll need surgery.
What causes them?
These toe problems are typically caused by wearing tight shoes. Using shoes that are too tight causes the muscles of the toe to lose their balance. If your shoe forces a toe to remain bent for a long time, the muscles begin to tighten and the tendons contract or shorten. When this happens, it becomes hard to straighten the toe back to its original position. Over time, the muscles can no longer straighten the toe even if you aren’t wearing shoes.
Hammer, claw, and mallet toes are common among adults and develop over a period of several years. Women are more likely to experience them compared to men because they like wearing high-heeled and tight shoes.
In a few cases, these problems are linked with other health issues, like diabetes, stroke, and ankle or foot injuries.
What are the symptoms I should look out for?
These toe problems will not only make your toes look odd, but they also hurt and make it difficult to find well-fitting shoes. They also rub against your shoes. If a bent toe presses against your shoe or another toe, you may develop corns or calluses. In severe cases, these problems may affect your balance and cause difficulty walking.
How are these toe problems diagnosed?
Your doctor will perform a physical examination and ask questions regarding your health history. You doctor will ask about when the problem started and what activities or kind of shoes worsen them.
Your doctor will check if the toe joint is flexible or fixed. A joint that still has some movement can be straightened without the need for surgery. Surgery may be required if the joint is fixed.
How are hammer, claw, and mallet toes treated?
You can treat a hammer toe, claw toe, and mallet toe at home if you start right away. First, get rid of your old footwear and choose better ones. You need a pair of shoes with a big toe box, low heels, and good arch support. You can go with athletic shoes or sandals that don’t rub on the affected toe.
Another way to treat these toe problems at home is to make use of products that provide cushion to the toe or ensures that the foot is in a comfortable position. These products include arch supports, shoe inserts, and toe tubes. They are effective in treating flexible toes, but can still provide relief for fixed toes.
If you have corns and calluses, be sure to care for them by using moleskin and other over-the-counter pain relief products. Do not cut corns and calluses as this can cause infection.
Over-the-counter pain medications are also available. Talk with your doctor before taking these medications. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen are the most common medications taken for pain relief. Read labels and be sure to follow instructions.
Treating a flexible toe
You can treat a flexible toe by wrapping tape under the big toe, then over the affected toe, and lastly under the next toe. Taping a hammer toe forces the affected toe back into a normal position. However, take note that this doesn’t permanently straighten the toe.
Toe caps, splints, or slings can hold toes in their proper position, and are also helpful if you have toe problems.
Also, there are exercises that can keep toe joints strong and flexible. You can perform towel curls by putting a towel under your feet and using your toes to crumple the towel. Marble pickups can also help. It is done by using your toes to pick up marbles from the floor and dropping them in a cup.
Home treatments may be successful if you begin treatment as soon as you notice a toe problem. In case you don’t, surgery may be advised by your doctor.