Symptoms and causes

Symptoms

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.

Causes

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 in which they can't lie flat. This curled toe position might eventually persist even when you're barefoot.
  • Trauma. An injury in which you stub, jam or break a toe can make it more likely for that digit to develop hammertoe or mallet toe.
  • Abnormal balance of the toe muscles. The imbalance leads to instability, which can cause the toe to contract.

Risk factors

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

  • Age. The risk of hammertoe and mallet toe increases with age.
  • 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.
  • Certain diseases. Arthritis and diabetes might make you more prone to developing foot deformities. Heredity might also play a role.

Complications

At first, a hammertoe or mallet toe might maintain its flexibility. But eventually, the tendons of the toe can contract and tighten, causing your toe to become permanently bent. Your shoes can rub against the raised portion of the toe or toes, causing painful corns or calluses.