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Hammertoe and mallet toe

Hammertoe and mallet toe are two foot deformities that occur most often in women who wear high heels or shoes with a narrow toe box. These types of footwear may force your toes against the front of the shoe, causing an unnatural bending.

A hammertoe has an abnormal bend in the middle joint of a toe. Mallet toe affects the joint nearest the toenail. Hammertoe and mallet toe are most likely to occur in the toe next to your big toe.

Relieving the pain and pressure of hammertoe and mallet toe may involve changing your footwear and wearing shoe inserts. If you have a more severe case of hammertoe or mallet toe, you may need surgery to experience relief.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

Hammertoe and mallet toe feature an abnormal bend in the joints of one or more of your toes. Moving the affected toe may be difficult or painful. Corns and calluses can result from the toe rubbing against the inside of your shoes.

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if you have persistent foot pain that affects your ability to walk properly.

Hammertoe and mallet toe have been linked to:

  • Certain shoes. High-heeled shoes or footwear that's too tight in the toe box can crowd your toes into a space that's not large enough for them to lie flat. This curled toe position may eventually persist even when you're barefoot.
  • Trauma. An injury in which you stub, jam or break a toe may make it more likely for that digit to develop hammertoe or mallet toe.
  • Nerve injuries or disorders. Hammertoe and mallet toe are more common in people who have nerve damage in their feet, which often occurs with such medical problems as a stroke or diabetes.

Factors that may increase you risk of hammertoe and mallet toe include:

  • Age. The risk of hammertoe and mallet toe increases with age.
  • Your sex. Women are much more likely to develop hammertoe or mallet toe than are men.
  • Toe length. If your second toe is longer than your big toe, it's at higher risk of hammertoe or mallet toe.

At first, a hammertoe or mallet toe may maintain its flexibility and lie flat when you're not wearing crowded footwear. But eventually, the tendons of the toe may contract and tighten, causing your toe to become permanently stiff. Your shoes can rub against the raised portion of the toe or toes, causing painful corns or calluses.

You can avoid many foot, heel and ankle problems with shoes that fit properly. Here's what to look for when buying shoes:

  • Adequate toe room. Avoid shoes with pointed toes.
  • Low heels. Avoiding high heels will help you avoid back problems.
  • Adjustability. Laced shoes are roomier and adjustable.

These additional tips may help you buy the right shoes:

  • Buy shoes at the end of the day. Your feet are smaller in the morning and swell throughout the day.
  • Don't assume your shoe size hasn't changed. As you age, your shoe size may change — especially the width. Measure both feet and buy for the larger foot.
  • Ask for just the right fit. A shoe repair store can stretch shoes in tight spots.
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