When your toes are bent in an abnormal fashion and cannot lie flat, you likely have one of the conditions known as hammertoes, claw toes, or mallet toes. All three of these particular toe deformities are similar to each other in some manner or another. Treatment is best performed while a toe deformity is still in its early stages, so having knowledge about them will help you know when to seek the care you need.
Toe Deformities Explained
In spite of their similarities (toes that are bent and do not lie flat), each of the various toe deformities has its own particular nuances distinguishing it from the others:
- Hammertoes – If your toe has an abnormal bend at the middle joint causing it to point down toward the floor, it is a hammertoe condition. In all likelihood, you will experience this abnormality in the second toe.
- Mallet Toes – In a similar fashion to a hammertoe, mallet toes are also marked by an abnormal downward bend. The key distinction is that this deformity’s bend takes place in the joint closest to the tip of the toe. Much like the case with hammertoes, these are most frequently seen in the second toe.
- Claw Toes – A major distinction between claw toes and the other two deformities is that claw toe usually happens to all of the four smaller toes, instead of just a single one. Additionally, claw toes bend upward at the joint where the toes meet the foot (the metatarsophalangeal joint), and then downward at the other two joints, which creates a claw-like appearance.
When noting the symptoms of these closely-related conditions, the most obvious sign is simply the fact the toes are bent and do not lie straight, as intended. Also, you will probably experience discomfort and perhaps even pain when you walk. Your risk of developing calluses or corns on the affected toes is also increased with these conditions. This happens because deformed toes tend to rub against the inside of shoes, causing pressure and friction on the toes. The body tries to protect the toes by building up a callus.
Causes of Toe Deformities
Generally speaking, these issues are all a matter of muscular imbalance. Toes have muscles on both the tops and bottoms of them that, when balanced, provide an equal tension and keep them flat. If one of these muscles becomes weakened, the balance is thrown off and a deformity can develop.
More specific causes of these conditions include genetics, poor-fitting footwear, arthritis, stroke, and traumatic injuries. Shoes become an issue when they are too tight and/or small and crowd toes together. This is especially the case with high heels, since there is also additional pressure on the toes and the front of the foot. When arthritis, stroke, or an injury affects the nerves or muscles in your feet and toes, the resulting muscular imbalance can cause a toe deformity like hammertoe to develop.
Treating a Case of Hammertoe
The best possible situation with regard to treating hammertoes (and the other, related conditions) is when these conditions are discovered in an early stage and toes still have flexibility. These conditions are progressive in nature and cannot be reversed, but we can implement measures to prevent them from worsening. This is often achieved with the use of conservative methods like exercises, stretches, custom orthotics and padding.
Once a toe deformity has been present for some time, toes becomes rigid and conservative methods tend to no longer be quite as effective. When we cannot provide the pain relief you need or reposition the toe, it becomes time to discuss surgery as an option. The goal of any surgical procedure is to straighten the affected toes, which is often accomplished by either releasing tendons responsible for the issue or removing pieces of bone.
Preventing Toe Deformities
Not all cases of hammertoes, claw toes, or mallet toes are preventable, but you can take measures to decrease your risk. A great place to start is ensuring that you wear shoes that properly fit your feet. Many foot issues stem from ill-fitting footwear, so be sure to pick styles that have wide, deep toe boxes. If you cannot wiggle your toes easily, it’s time to choose a different pair.
Staying physically active can decrease your risk of developing these conditions by promoting healthy circulation for optimal nerve health. Additionally, foot massages can relieve stress, feel great, and can also be beneficial in improving circulation.
For further information on toe deformities, or to receive professional treatment, contact Foot & Ankle Associates of Florida today. Call us at 407-339-7759 or 352-589-9550 (for patients calling from Lake County), or use our online form to request an appointment with any of our five offices (Altamonte Springs, Kissimmee, Tavares, Lake Mary, and Orlando).