Bent Toe Conditions: Hammer vs. Mallet vs. Claw

Dr. Corey Fox
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Director of Massapequa Podiatry Associates

Different Bent Toe ConditionsAt Massapequa Podiatry Associates, we see a lot of toes that have gotten bent out of shape. We’ve worked with a lot of dancers in the past who in particular struggle with these kinds of conditions. The truth, however, is that just about anyone can develop a permanent, uncomfortable bend in one or more toes if they stick their feet in tight shoes too much, or even simply because of an unlucky genetic inheritance.

The one you’ve probably heard the most about is hammertoes, but in fact there are three common, related foot deformities involving a bend in the toes: hammertoes, mallet toes, and claw toes.

Hammertoes and mallet toes are the most similar to one another, and often lumped together in common conversation. The primary difference is the location of the affected joint. Your smaller toes have three joints each: base, middle, and tip. Hammertoes bend at the middle joint, while mallet toes bend at the joint closest to the tip. In each case, the second toe is most commonly targeted (especially if it’s longer than the great toe), but any of the smaller toes can be affected.

Claw toes are a little different in a couple of ways. First, all joints are affected—toes bend up at the base, down in the middle, and down again near the tip, resembling the namesake claw. Second, claw toes are likely to affect all four toes of a foot at once, rather than one at a time. Unlike hammertoes and mallet toes, which are almost always caused by a mechanical or structural deficiency, claw toes frequently result from nerve damage, possibly related to diabetes or alcohol abuse.

Despite the differences, the practical implications are broadly similar. A toe that’s bent out of shape may make it tough to find a good pair of shoes, lead to the development of painful corns at the tops and tips of toes due to friction, and even cause pain when standing or walking. And all three conditions are progressive, with joints that start out somewhat flexible but gradually become rigidly locked in place over time.

Treatment courses are also broadly similar. If you get your feet checked out early, there’s a good chance conservative therapies such as orthotics, taping, splinting, or padding will manage your discomfort sufficiently to avoid surgical correction. More severe cases, however, may require surgery in order to get you back on your feet again without pain.

Don’t let bent toes get you bent out of shape. Whether it’s hammertoes, mallet toes, or claw toes, get the help you need from Massapequa Podiatry Associates. You can book online, or give us a call at 516-541-9000 today.

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