Claw and Mallet Toes

Toes should look like toes. If they look like anything else (claws, hammers, or mallets) there is a problem that needs to be fixed. When your toe joints begin to stay in a bent position, it’s a good idea to get medical help as quickly as possible, so that the problem doesn’t deteriorate until it is only correctable with surgery.

Why Do My Toes Look Like Tools?

Claw and mallet toes are categorized as toe deformities. They occur when the toe joints bend, causing the toe to point down at an odd angle, and you can’t straighten them out on their own. The difference between mallet and claw toe is where the bend takes place. Claw toes usually affect multiple toes at once. They bend up at the joint connecting them to the foot, and down at the middle and end joints, making them resemble claws. Mallet toes curl down in the joint closest to the tip. This occurs most often in the second toe, but can be found in any toe.

One of the main causes of these deformities is wearing shoes that don’t fit correctly in the toe box, specifically high heels, cowboy boots, and pointy flats. In addition to funny looking toes, you may experience pain, the inability to wear certain shoes, and other foot conditions such as corns or calluses.

How Do You Treat This Deformity?

Treating this group of problems depends entirely on when you decide to start. If you catch the problem early, you can often fix it very simply: by changing your footwear. Since these deformities take years to develop, you can stop the progression by wearing shoes that leave enough room for your toes to lie straight and flat. There are also certain foot orthotics you can wear that can hold your toe in the correct position and keep it from getting worse.

If you can still flatten your toe without pain, this is known as “flexible mallet toe”. If you can’t move your toe at all, or you experience too much pain when trying to straighten it, it’s called “rigid mallet toe”. When it reaches the point of being rigid it’s usually too late to fix the problem with conservative methods. By this point your best option is usually surgery. Surgery can be done in different ways depending on your unique case. Sometimes part of the bone or joint will be removed, while other times an implant may need to be used.

Preventing Toe Deformities

Of course the best way to “treat” claw and mallet toes is with prevention. Don’t let your toes reach the point where they resemble anything but toes. Make sure your shoes fit in the toe area, and if they feel tight, consider going up a size or switching shoe styles.

Our feet change throughout the day, so buy shoes that offer adjustability. Also, it’s generally a good idea to limit time spent in high heels. They are hard on your toes and feet, as well as your back. If you feel confused about what feels right and what doesn’t you should consider getting professionally fitted. Sometimes we think we know what size foot we have, but manufacturers and styles differ, and if it’s off by even half a size, problems can occur.

Call Us Today!
If you are concerned that you may be developing a toe deformity, or if you want to get your feet professionally fitted, call Dr. Mitchell Wachtel, podiatrist North Andover, today at (978) 794-8406 to schedule an appointment with us. For your convenience we have three conveniently located Massachusetts offices.