Mallet Toes

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A mallet toe is a toe with a curled upper joint, which gives the toe a claw-like appearance. If the bottom of the toe is pressed down over time, this can create a "mallet-like" appearance, hence the name of the deformity. Although the toe may be flexible and flat-lying at first, without treatment it is likely to tighten, potentially causing permanent stiffness. However, with proper medical attention by a skilled healthcare professional, many individuals with mallet toes can enjoy improved foot and toe functioning.

Causes of mallet toes

There are a number of potential causes of mallet toe, including: 

  • Genetic factors. 
  • Injury to the toe (i.e. jams, sprains, and breaks). 
  • Other diseases that affect the muscles and nerves (i.e. arthritis and stroke). 
  • Wearing high heels and poorly-fitting footwear.

Symptoms of mallet toes

The symptoms of mallet toe include: 

  • Corns and calluses on or between the toes.
  • Misshaped toes (claw-like/hammer-like appearance). 
  • Pain and difficulty moving the toe. 
  • Pressure in the toe joints.

Treatment of mallet toes

When a mallet toe causes persistent pain, interferes with your daily life, and/or causes your toe to have a clenched appearance, it is time to seek medical attention. Treatment for mallet toe depends on the severity of the symptoms.

Non-surgical treatment

If the toe is still flexible, wearing roomier footwear and toe inserts (pads) may be all that is necessary to reposition the toe, thereby relieving pain and pressure.

Surgical treatment

If the toe is tight and inflexible, surgery may be necessary. Your doctor will make an incision in your toe and treat the tendon causing the toe to clench. If necessary, your doctor may also: 

  • Place temporary supportive pins in the toes.
  • Remove some pieces of bone. 
  • Straighten the toe.

The outpatient procedure typically requires around two hours for completion.

If you are experiencing the symptoms of mallet toes, contact your doctor right away. With proper treatment, functionality can likely be improved.

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