There are multiple joints in the human body, each of which plays their own role. If these joints are not placing according to the guidelines of proper human biology (not that such a thing exists, but you understand what I’m getting at), it can lead to serious mobility problems. It’s best to realize the severity of disjointed toes before their situation worsens. It’s better to preventive take action early on, rather than reactive action later on.

The right treatment plan can be put in place to mitigate the discomfort and pain you might have from your toe deformity. The focus of this article will be towards answering some of the most important questions related to mallet, hammer and claw toes.

What Are Mallet, Hammer And Claw Toes?


Let’s begin by defining these conditions along with their differences. Each condition involves the toe joints. Depending on how they are deformed, determines how it is categorized (mallet, hammer or claw).

mallet-hammer-claw-toeMallet toe refers to the tip of the toe. The joint in this part of the toe will bend down in an unnatural manner. This can vary depending on the toe, but in general, medical professionals indicate the second toe on one’s feet is the most prone to this condition.

With the hammer toe, the emphasis moves towards the middle toe joint. The toe is going to bend downwards, which pushes the joint upwards. The toe impacted by this condition the most often is the second toe.

The final condition, claw toe, refers to the toes bending upwards. This occurs where the toes and feet meet. In general, a person who is suffering from this condition is not going to see one toe impacted; it’s going to involve multiple toes at the same time (often four at once).

On a visual level, a person who is dealing with this condition is going to note having their feet curl down. This gives off the “claw” look that is the moniker it’s given.

For those who are dealing with deformed joints and want to have a proper diagnosis, it’s best to speak to a medical professional. They will run an x-ray to see what the problem is and how it will be treated. The first step towards a solution is to have a good understanding of what the problem is.

As one can see, there are variations in deformed joints and the conditions they signify. One person might have claw toes, while another can have hammer toes. You always need to get properly diagnosed before looking at treatment.

What Are The Key Symptoms Of Toe Deformities?

For those who believe they’re suffering from one of these joint-related conditions… what are the main symptoms? What should a person be looking for when they’re trying to figure out the underlying cause?

There are several symptoms:

  • Visibly disjointed toe (i.e. crooked/bent)
  • Underlying pain (severity can vary for each person)
  • Development of calluses
  • Difficulty putting on shoes

These four symptoms are going to be present for each condition whether one has mallet, hammer or claw toes. It’s best to assess what is going on here with these symptoms. If you’re displaying all four, it is an evident case of disjointed toes. This means it’s time to take action.

Those who are suffering from a disjointed toe will be recommended to sit down and focus on the symptoms. However, many will ignore the symptoms as long as there is no pain. When this occurs, crippling, debilitating pain might be right around the corner. It’s always in your best interest to get out in front of it.

Speak with a medical professional if these symptoms are something you can relate to. If you’re not doing this, you can expect to get to a situation where it worsens, sooner rather than later. If you neglect your toe deformity, don’t be surprised if one day you will have a sudden burst of pain and discomfort. The disjointed toe is going to be putting pressure on the wrong parts of your feet. This will only lead to more aggravation.

Be smart and take action as soon as possible. You want to speak to a medical professional to determine how bad your personal situation is. If the pain is already severe, you should be heading to a medical professional immediately.

It’s also best to not wait for all four symptoms to arrive. The worst thing you can do is tolerate one symptom and then hope for the best.

What Causes Mallet, Hammer And Claw Toes?

If the symptoms are present, you’ll want to know what the cause is for these disjointed toes you’re dealing with. It’s a good idea to ask yourself the question as to how this situation has come about in the first place.

The leading causes include:

  • Injury
  • Continuously wearing tight shoes
  • Stroke
  • Arthritis
  • Diabetes

Let’s break down each one of the causes listed above and how they intersect with these conditions in the long-term.

With an injury, it’s easy to understand how a joint can fall out of place. It might have landed at an awkward angle or it might have been twisted in a manner where the joint popped out. However, long-term injuries can also become an issue which can be ignored at first. This would include repeated trauma to a joint where it falls out of place. For such conditions, it’s best to have an x-ray done so that the performing surgeon can establish how to repair the joint.

For those who put on tight shoes, the tendons will start to shorten in the region as the toe is not supposed to be put in such an awkward position. It’s better to wear loose shoes, instead. For women who wear high heels with narrow toes, this can become a real danger, since it is a leading cause for disjointed toes. It is best to not wear shoes that have such a shape, because a nasty toe deformity might be in your future. Women who wear these shoes once in a while will be okay, but those who are repeated wearers are going to push their toes into a poor angle. Therefore, it is best to temporarily stop wearing these kinds of shoes. If you don’t, it will get to a point where the shoe won’t be on your foot, and yet the toes won’t flex back into their proper positions.

The remaining three causes (stroke, arthritis and diabetes) can be lumped together as external medical conditions, all of which can lead to the weakening of one’s joints. If you have been struck with one of these, you will most likely already have received a great deal of medical care, or you would not be sitting here reading this article.

How Are Mallet, Hammer Or Claw Toes Diagnosed?

This is an important question for individuals who are dealing with toe deformities and want to take rapid action towards a solution. The faster you take action, the faster you’ll win your life back. If you let this problem linger, it will almost certainly get worse.

The diagnosis usually beings with an x-ray of the foot. This will take a look at an internal picture of what is going on and how aggressive the problem is. Each case is unique in that sense. The disjointed toe might be mild or severe, depending on the person’s unique situation. Which toe deformity you suffer from, and how severe it is, is ultimately going to be determined by a medical professional

A general physical examination can also be run, to see how your toe is moving. Sometimes, the toe will move okay, but the x-ray might still reveal an underlying issue. This is why you want to have both examinations run at the same time to help the medical professional in determining accurately what is going on.

The doctor also has to determine what the source of the problem is. In essence, if you are dealing with something like arthritis, it will be handled differently than if you had come in with a bone injury from a physical (external) accident. These variables are going to play a significant role at all times.

It is best to have the x-ray performed as soon as possible, because it can provide a lot of answers for both doctor and patient. Next to x-rays, doctors sometimes run alternative imaging tests, using magnetic fields, sound waves or radioactive particles. It can help the doctor to gain more insight in your personal situation. This will depend on the patient’s toes and the severity of their disjointed problem.

How To Live With Mallet, Hammer Or Claw Toes?

Let’s assume you’ve now been diagnosed with a toe deformity… what are you going to do now? Will you be able to live with them? If you are going to live with them, what will you do to decrease the pain and increase your quality of life? These are important questions to ask.

Whether or not you will be able to live with it, it is going to depend on the severity. A patient with a mild condition is far more likely to ignore the issue, while someone who has a severe issue won’t be able to bear the pain brought on from a 10 foot walk to the kitchen. This is why you have to take action immediately, even if it is not severe.

For those who do have a mild issue, you can walk around with it, but it is best to take precautions and never wear shoes that are too tight. Or wear open shoes. Women will have more options when it comes to open shoes than men. But sandals are an option to both sexes, ofcourse.

When it comes to handling pain and reducing the issue at hand, here are a number of tips:

  • Wear open shoes (no heels for women)
  • Reduce time putting stress on toes (don’t run marathons)
  • Do not aggravate toes (no playing soccer or basketball for a while)
  • Ice your toes regularly (prevent them from overheating at all times)

These are useful tips for those who want to live with toe deformities, at least for the time being. If you’re waiting for treatment, or simply want to live with a mild toe deformity permanently, you can implement these tips by making a few subtle changes in your life. In most cases, living with a mild form of your condition isn’t going to be the end of the world. Especially if you take good care of yourself.

If you are the sporty, athletic kind, then you might find yourself in a situation where you aren’t able to play for a while. It can be a good idea to focus on treatment in the short term, so that you can get back onto the playing field of your choice in the long term. Ignore the risk of continued toe pressure from physical activities at your own peril.

Can Toe Deformities Be Fixed Or Cured?

Last but not least, let’s talk about the most important thing. Is there a fix or cure for toe deformities? Will you be able to recover from the problem in the long-term, or are you going to live with it for the rest of your life? How much quality of life will you be able to regain?

There are two sets of treatments, which I’m going to showcase here for those who want to take action. These treatments will be divided into two groups: Short term treatments and Long term treatments.

Short term treatments for disjointed toes:

  • Icing toes
  • Removing all sources of pain (i.e. tight shoes)
  • Massaging toes and joints
  • Pain killers (i.e. Ibuprofen)

Long term treatments for disjointed toes:

  • Insoles for your shoes
  • Customized shoes (good high/low arch support, depending on your condition)
  • Treatment for calluses and bunions
  • Day time surgery

For most patients, surgery is not necessary unless you’re an athlete and require immediate joint repair work, to get back out onto the playing field asap. For everyone else, you can use most of the short term treatments to get back to where you were beforehand. Surgery is also recommended for those who are unable to move their toes and feel acute discomfort to the point of becoming immobile.

In this case, the doctor will recommend a small, day-time surgery on your toe(s). The healing process doesn’t take very long with this surgery. However, you must be sure to get plenty of rest, because it will leave you unable to walk for a while. Putting pressure on toe that just had surgery and is now healing, could easily damage it.

Consider the short and long term treatments. Always discuss your options with a medical professional. This is the least you can do when it comes to tackling the problem head on, rather than neglecting it until things get worse.

There are usually steps you can take to improve your situation, so there is no reason to lose hope. There is a good treatment out there for you and your toes, just so long as you’re being proactive with it.

This information should provide some useful assistance for those who are suffering from these conditions. It is best to sit down and have these issues diagnosed well in advance, rather than letting them linger for too long.

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About the Author

Hi, I’m Brian Bradshaw. I’m a super duper mega hiking enthusiast, with a love for everything that has to do with outdoors, hiking, gear, footwear and more.

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  1. I am a licensed trigger point therapist, licensed acupuncturist, and licensed primary health care provider who was blindsided by the course of events that resulted in hammer toes. I took a slow fall while rotating my torso and bearing 50 pounds. When the r.i.c.e. approach to the leg and hip pain failed, x- rays appeared normal, yet sitting lying, and especially bearing wait was almost too much to take. Three years, five different images, and the apparent 2″ deficiency in the affected leg length required a walker. Throughout this time, weakness and instability caused me to clench my toes as a response. Finally, I was diagnosed with a fractured femur. It was clearly visible when x rays were taken with me lying down. All previous imaging was taken with me standing. Three years of walking on a fractured femur meant necropsy of the bone proximal to the fracture. Hip replacement surgery gave me my life back. However bilateral hammertoes stole my lovely feet. The surgery left me with venus deficiency and neuropathies on the affected side. I treat them with massage, stretching. The toes are resistant to improvement. Lesson; 1. Diagnostic imaging in standing position causes compression that results in hairline fractures going undetected. 2. Causes of hammertoes can be can be a mechanical response to a seemingly unrelated injury.

    1. Dear Liz,

      I’m sorry to hear you’ve been through hell and back with your leg, feet and toe problems.

      But I’m happy you are taking the time to share your invaluable experience with me and my readers.

      One day, these insights might help somebody. Thanks a lot!



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