Diagnosis

Your doctor can diagnose hammertoe or mallet toe by examining your foot. Your doctor might order X-rays to further evaluate the bones and joints of your feet and toes.

Treatment

If your toe is still flexible, your doctor might recommend that you change to roomier, more comfortable footwear and that you wear shoe inserts (orthotics) or pads. Inserts or pads can reposition your toe and relieve pressure and pain.

In addition, your doctor might suggest exercises — such as picking up marbles or crumpling a towel with your toes — to stretch and strengthen your toe muscles.

If conservative treatments don't help, your doctor might recommend surgery to release the tendon that's preventing your toe from lying flat. In some cases, the surgeon also might remove a piece of bone to straighten your toe.

Lifestyle and home remedies

Wearing proper footwear may ease your foot pain. Low-heeled shoes with a deep toe box and flexible material covering the toes can help. Make sure there's a half-inch (1.27 centimeters) of space between your longest toe and the inside tip of your shoe. Allowing adequate space for your toes will help relieve pressure and pain.

Avoid over-the-counter medicated corn-removal products, many of which contain acid that can cause severe skin irritation. It's also risky to try shaving or cutting an unsightly corn off your toe. Foot wounds can easily get infected, and foot infections are often difficult to treat, especially if you have diabetes or poor circulation.

Preparing for your appointment

If you're having a problem with your feet, you'll likely start by seeing your primary care provider. Or you may be referred immediately to a foot specialist (podiatrist or orthopedist).

What you can do

Before your appointment, make a list of:

  • Your symptoms, including any that seem unrelated to the reason for your appointment
  • Key personal information, including major stresses, recent life changes and family medical history
  • All medications, vitamins or other supplements you take, including the doses
  • Questions to ask your doctor

Take a family member or friend along, if possible, to help you remember the information you're given.

For hammertoe or mallet toe, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:

  • What's likely causing my foot problems?
  • What are other possible causes?
  • What tests do I need?
  • Is my condition likely temporary or chronic?
  • What's the best course of action?
  • What are the alternatives to the primary approach you're suggesting?
  • Am I a candidate for surgery? Why?
  • Are there restrictions I need to follow?
  • Should I see a specialist?
  • Are there brochures or other printed material I can have? What websites do you recommend?

Don't hesitate to ask other questions.

What to expect from your doctor

Your doctor is likely to ask you questions, such as:

  • When did your foot problems begin?
  • How much pain are your feet or toes causing you?
  • Where is the pain situated?
  • What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms?
  • What, if anything, appears to worsen your symptoms?
  • What type of shoes do you normally wear?