Understanding Hammertoe and Mallet Toe

A hammertoe is a toe that's curled due to a bend in the middle joint of a toe. When you think of a hammertoe, it's common to picture shoes that are too short or heels that are too high. Under these conditions, your toe may be forced against the front of your shoe, resulting in an unnatural bending of your toe.

When hammertoe occurs, your toe may press against the top of the toe box of your shoe, causing pain and pressure. In addition, you may have pain from a hard growth of skin (corn) on the top of your toe that can form where your toe rubs against your shoe. Pain may also result from calluses that develop under the tip of your toe or on the ball of your foot.

Unlike a bunion, which affects only your big toe, hammertoe can affect any toe. Most commonly, it occurs in your second toe. Generally, both joints of the toe are affected, causing your toe to bend upward in the middle, giving it a hammer-like or claw-like appearance. The differences between hammertoe and mallet toe are subtle. A mallet toe has a deformity at the end of the toe that gives the toe a mallet-like appearance.

Aside from wearing crowded shoes, hammertoe and mallet toe may result from muscle and nerve damage caused by diabetes. Relieving the pain and pressure may involve changing footwear and wearing shoe inserts. In more severe cases, you may need surgery. If you have discomfort that could be related to one of these conditions, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor will be able to help diagnose a condition and help you treat it, which may help alleviate discomfort.

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