Claw mallet and hammer toes


hammer mallet and claw toes  

TOES CAN BE A CAUSE of foot pain. Three common problems are hammertoes, mallet toes, and claw toes. These conditions can occur in any of the toes, but typically happen in the three middle toes. 

A hammertoe is when the first joint of the toe (the proximal interphalangeal [PIP] joint) bends and is difficult, if not impossible, to straighten (Figure 7-1). 

hammer toes

Figure 7‑1: Hammertoes. 

Mallet toe occurs when the second joint of the toe (the distal interphalangeal [DIP] joint) bends in this way (Figure 7-2).


mallet toes

Figure 7‑2: Mallet toes. 

A claw toe is when both of the joints bend, and the toe looks like a claw (Figure 7-3).


claw toes

Figure 7‑3: Claw toes.

These conditions are usually caused by wearing shoes that are too short or too tight. Our feet grow with time, even in adulthood. People often continue wearing the same size shoe they have for years without realizing the harm they are causing their feet. They don’t realize their toes are being squished because the toes simply bend to squeeze into the limited space. But over time, this abnormal stress causes the bones to change. 

Remember, bones are living tissue that remodel with stress. The good news is if you take the stress away, the bones can remodel to a more normal shape—but this takes years.

Just as with bunions, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you notice your toes are starting to bend in a funny way, you can wear toe tubes to help keep them straight (Figure 7-4). If your shoes are too tight to wear toe tubes, then your shoes are too tight for your feet.

toe tubes

Figure 7‑4: Toe tubes.

You can correct hammertoes by holding down your toes with a hammertoe crutch, also known as a hammertoe straighter or hammertoe pad (Figure 7-5)

toe pads

Figure 7‑5: Toe pads for bent toes. 

These items can be found online or at your local drugstore. 

Another cause of bending toes is tightening ligaments or tendons in the foot. Again, this can be from ill-fitting shoes, extremely high arches, injury, diseases or neurological conditions that weaken the muscles of the feet, creating the imbalances that bend your toes.

If your toes are bending abnormally, your healthcare provider should put you through some tests to rule out such diseases and neurologic disorders.


If your shoes are too small, this can put pressure on your toes, causes the bones of the toe joint to inflame and thicken, resulting in claw, mallet or hammer toes.

My rule of thumb, if your shoe does not have space for your foot with toe spacers, then the shoe is too small for you.


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Foot Pain Specialists
565 N Walnut St 
Bloomington, IN 47404

(812) 336 - 2423

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