Conditions like hammertoe and mallet toe deformities can cause a great deal of foot and heel pain if left untreated. These deformities can result from an imbalance in the muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the toes and feet. The connective tissues normally keep the toe straight, but they can become imbalanced. Thankfully, there are several ways you can try to prevent and treat these conditions, alleviating the pain or pressure you may experience.
What Causes Hammertoe and Mallet Toe?
The root cause of hammertoe and mallet toe relates to the imbalance between the muscles and connective tissues in the toe and foot. If the toe is bent in a position for a prolonged period of time, the muscles and joints may tighten. As a result, they become unable to stretch out from that position.
Causes relating to toe deformities include:
- Shoe choice. Wearing high heels or shoes that are too tight around the toes can crowd your toes in an unnatural way. With prolonged or habitual wear, your curled toes may even persist when you take off your shoes.
- Trauma or injury. Physical trauma to the affected area can result in the development of hammertoe or mallet toe. This includes stubbing, jamming, or breaking one of your toes.
- Nerve damage. In addition to physical trauma to the bones, muscles, and connective tissue, damage to the nerves may also lead to toe deformities.
- Muscle balance. If the toe muscles are imbalanced or weak, this can lead to an instability in how you walk. This can then force your toe or toes to contract.
- Bone imbalance. Foot bones that are too short or otherwise imbalanced can also lead to hammertoe and mallet toe.
Additional Risk Factors Include:
- As you get older, the risk of hammertoe and mallet toe increases.
- Women are more likely to develop these conditions than men.
- If your second toe is longer than your big toe, it may be at risk of developing hammertoe or mallet toe.
- Diseases like arthritis and diabetes have been linked to a higher risk of foot deformities.
- Genetics may play a role. Hammertoe and mallet toe may be hereditary.
Common Hammertoe Characteristics and Symptoms
Hammertoes are characterized by an abnormal bend in the toe’s middle joint, called the proximal interphalangeal joint (PIP). The toe appears curled, like an upside-down V. It can get stuck in this position. Characteristics and symptoms of this condition include:
- Loss of toe flexibility
- Pain or difficulty moving the affected toe
- An inability to straighten the toe
- Redness or swelling of and around the toes
- Difficulty walking or participating in other daily activities
- Corns, calluses, and sores may form from the toe rubbing against the inside of your shoe
- Most common in second, third, and fourth toes
Common Characteristics of Mallet Toe Deformities
Mallet toe deformities are very similar to hammertoes. The key difference is in the joint affected. Mallet toes affect the first joint in the toe, called the distal interphalangeal joint (DIJ). This is the joint closest to the toenail. Like hammertoe, mallet toes are characterized by an upward bend at the toe joint. Symptoms often include:
- Persistent toe pain caused by the bent toe
- Trouble wearing shoes without pain or discomfort
- Redness and swelling in the affected area
- Thickened toenails or other changes
- Flexible mallet toes are still movable
- Rigid mallet toes are severely tightened and frozen in the bent position
- Most common in the second toe, as it is usually the longest
Possible Treatment Options
Your podiatrist, or Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM), can work with you to develop an effective treatment plan for your hammertoe or mallet toe. The customized plan depends on your specific situation and may include any of the following:
- Taking pain medication to alleviate discomfort
- Padding and taping to address the imbalance around the toes
- Wearing orthotic shoe inserts to reposition your toe and relieve pressure
- Specific exercises to stretch and strengthen toe muscles
- Injecting steroids to reduce inflammation
- Gently smoothing out calluses
- Splinting the affected toes to encourage better alignment
- Surgery is also available as a last resort, including arthroplasty, tendon release, and tendon transfer
Alongside active treatment, your podiatrist may also recommend some preventative measures. Steps you can take to reduce the risk of future hammertoe or mallet toe deformities include:
- Avoid high heel shoes
- Avoid shoes with pointed toes
- Choose roomier, adjustable shoes with laces or straps
- Wear supportive shoes around the house
- Avoid medicated corn removal products that may contain skin irritants
- Apply ice packs regularly to reduce inflammation
- Stretch your toes and feet on a regular basis
Book Your Appointment Today
Fill out our online contact form or call 540-904-1458 to schedule an appointment with us today. Shenandoah Podiatry is conveniently located on Summerfield Court next to the Botetourt Athletic Club in Roanoke, Virginia. Whether you’re having issues relating to hammertoes, mallet toe deformities, or other foot or ankle issues, we’re here to help.