Hammertoe and mallet toe are foot problems that cause a bend in a toe or toes. Wearing shoes that don't fit well can cause hammertoe and mallet toe. Other causes are foot injury and certain illnesses, such as diabetes. Often the cause isn't known.
A hammertoe has an unusual bend in the middle joint of a toe. Mallet toe has a bend in the joint nearest the toenail. Hammertoe and mallet toe usually occur in the second, third and fourth toes.
Changing footwear, wearing shoe inserts, and using other devices might relieve the pain and pressure of hammertoe and mallet toe. Surgery can correct the condition and relieve the pressure if these treatments don't work.
Hammertoe and mallet toe have an unusual bend in the joints of one or more of the toes. Other symptoms include:
- Pain from wearing shoes.
- Difficulty moving the affected toe.
- Toe stiffness.
- Redness and swelling.
- Growth of corns and calluses from rubbing against shoes or against the ground.
When to see a doctor
See a health care provider if you have lasting foot pain that affects your ability to walk.
Hammertoe and mallet toe have been linked to:
- Certain shoes. High-heeled shoes or footwear that's too tight in the toe can crowd toes so they can't lie flat. In time, the toe might remain curled even when not in shoes.
- Trauma. A toe that has been stubbed, jammed or broken might be more likely to develop hammertoe or mallet toe.
- Imbalance of the toe muscles. If the muscles aren't balanced, they can put pressure on the tendons and joints. This imbalance can lead to hammertoe and mallet toe over time.
Factors that can increase the risk of hammertoe and mallet toe include:
- Sex. Women are more likely to develop hammertoe or mallet toe than are men.
- Certain diseases. Arthritis and diabetes can increase the risk of having foot problems. Genes also might play a role.
For a while, the toe still might be able to unbend. But over time, the tendons and joints of a hammertoe or mallet toe might tighten. This can cause the toe to stay bent.
Shoes can rub against the higher part of the bent toe. The bent position also may lead to excess pressure on the bone of the toe tip instead of the fat pad on the toe. This can cause painful corns or calluses.
Shoes that fit well can prevent many foot, heel and ankle problems. Here's what to look for when buying shoes:
- Enough toe room. Avoid shoes with pointed toes.
- Low heels. Not wearing high heels will help prevent toe and back problems.
- Shoes that adjust. Shoes with laces or straps are roomier and easier to make feel comfortable.
These added tips can help buying the right shoes:
- Shop at the end of the day. Feet swell as the day goes on.
- Check size. Shoe size — especially the width — can change with age. Measure both feet and buy for the larger foot.
- Buy shoes that fit right away. Be sure shoes are comfortable before you buy them. A shoe repair store might be able to stretch shoes in tight spots, but it's better to buy them to fit.