Mallet Toe

Mallet toe deformity is a unique condition affecting toe joints and is often hidden until pain emerges. In this article, we will discuss what mallet toes are and how podiatric services can help.

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What is Mallet Toe?

Mallet toe is one of the lesser toe deformities that manifest in an upward bend at the toe joint, giving them a curled appearance. Mallet toes are more common in the second toe (after the big toe) because they are often the longest of the four smaller toes. However, it is also possible to affect the third and fourth toes.

Mallet toe occurs in the third toe joint called the distal interphalangeal joint (DIPJ). When the muscle called the flexor digitorum longus (FDL) becomes too tight, it can bend one of the toe joints upward.

Types of Mallet Toe

There are two types of mallet toe:

  • Rigid mallet toes: This occurs when the muscle and nearby tendons tighten. The toe joint gets stuck in a bent position.
  • Flexible mallet toes: Movement in the toe joint is still possible.
A woman experiencing mallet toe pain from wearing high heels.

What is the Difference Between Hammer Toes, Claw Toes and Mallet Toes?

A foot doctor treating mallet toe in Greater Columbus.

Hammer toes, claw toes, and mallet toes are all foot deformities that affect joints in the toe. Even though they all are a result of imbalances in the foot muscles, there are some differences. They include the following:

  • Mallet toe: Bends in the third toe joint, closest to the toenail.
  • Hammer toe: Bends in the second or middle joint of the toe.
  • Claw toe: Bends in the first toe joint but could also bend in the second and third joints.

Causes of Mallet Toe

Mallet toes can develop for several different reasons:

Symptoms of Mallet Toe

The toe curling at the last toe joint is the most obvious symptom of a mallet toe. Other symptoms of mallet toes may also include:

How Are Mallet Toes Affected by Diabetes?

You are at a higher risk of developing complications when you have mallet toe and diabetes. Diabetes is known to cause circulation problems in your feet and toes, as well as nerve damage. This can cause corns or calluses to turn into blisters or sores. These can then worsen into open wounds and get infected or lead to gangrene.

How Mallet Toe is Diagnosed

Mallet toes are usually diagnosed by your primary care physician (PCP) or podiatrist (a foot and ankle doctor). Mallet toes are usually diagnosed through a physical exam. Your doctor will check to see if you’re putting excessive pressure or stress on the affected toe.

Your doctor may also order imaging tests such as an X-ray. This will rule out any possible toe fractures.

Mallet Toe Treatment Options

You can usually treat mallet toes with conservative treatments. Surgery is usually only necessary in severe cases or with rigid mallet toe.

Conservative Treatment

Conservative treatments for mallet toe include the following:

  • Smoothing calluses through exfoliation
  • Dressing corns or calluses with toe pads
  • Steroid injections to reduce inflammation
  • Toe Stretches
  • Custom orthotics to take pressure off your affected toe
  • Wearing shoes with more room in the toes.

If you have diabetes, you will need to take some extra steps to care for your feet. This will include:

  • Examining your feet for sores or injuries each day
  • Keeping your feet clean and dry
  • Trimming your toenails regularly

Surgical Treatment

Surgery is sometimes necessary to restore proper alignment in the toe joint. Mallet toe surgery can include the following:

  • Arthroplasty: Your surgeon will remove part of the bent toe bone and realign it.
  • Tendon release: Your surgeon cuts the tendon to allow the toe to lay flat.
  • Tendon transfer: A tight tendon will be moved to another part of the foot in order to straighten the toe.

How to Prevent Mallet Toe

Maintaining good foot health can help prevent the development of mallet toes. Try the following tips:

  • Avoid ill-fitting shoes
  • Use footwear with a low heel
  • Stretch your toes and feet regularly
  • Have a sales professional choose the size of your shoes

When to Contact the Doctor

Mallet toe is not usually a medical emergency. However, you should contact your doctor right away if:

  • You have diabetes and an open sore or wound is developing on your toe.
  • You have an infection around your toenail.
  • Your bent toe could be a result of a fracture or soft tissue injury.

Book an Appointment Today

Contact one of our expert doctors if you are dealing with persistent foot pain or concerned with any other foot or ankle condition. We have many locations throughout Columbus, Ohio. Our doctors look forward to helping you with your foot and ankle issues. 

Medically reviewed by
Terrence M. Philbin, DO

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