Have you ever been so shocked, startled, or disgusted by something that it literally made your toes curl? Once the feeling wears off, you can relax and straighten those toes out. But if you suffer from a toe deformity like hammertoes, mallet toes, or claw toes, your toes may stay stuck in that position all the time.
In the early stages, the most significant symptom of one of these deformities may be your embarrassment at the unsightliness. But in time, they may worsen to the point where they are causing pain or making it difficult to walk or wear normal shoes. And by then, surgery may be your only good option.
If you want to avoid that fate, the best decision you can make is to visit a foot and ankle specialist like Dr. Foster when you first notice the problem, long before the condition becomes painful.
Common Toe Deformities
Not including bunions, a related but different condition affecting the big toe and side of the foot that you can read about more here, the most common toe deformities we see in our office include:
- One or more of the four smaller toes on each foot becomes stuck in a “bent” position at the middle joint, so that the toe resembles a hammer.
- Mallet toes. The same as hammertoes, except bent at the third joint—the one closest to the tip of the toe.
- Claw toes. The toe bends up at the base joint where it connects to the rest of the foot, down at the middle joint, and down again at the third joint.
Hammertoes and mallet toes are relatively more likely to affect just the second toe on your foot, especially if it’s longer than the big toe. By contrast, claw toes are relatively more likely to affect all four smaller toes on the foot at once.
In all three of these conditions, the symptoms are likely to get worse over time. In the earliest stages, the joints may “default” to a bent position, but can be temporarily straightened using your fingers, splints, tape, etc.
However, eventually the joints become more rigidly locked in place. When that happens, pain and mobility restriction are likely to become a lot more severe.
Common secondary complications from these toe deformities include arthritis, corns and calluses from friction between the toe and the inside of your shoe, and difficulty fitting into normal shoes or engaging in certain physical activities without pain.
What Causes Toe Deformities?
In these foot deformities, the joints stay bent because the paired muscles and tendons responsible for curling and straightening get out of balance. Eventually, the muscle groups responsible for straightening the toe are no longer strong enough to do so.
We aren’t always 100% sure what causes this to occur. However, there are several known, possible risk factors. These include:
- Misaligned foot structures. If your foot structure is not properly aligned, excess pressure on the toes may cause the joints to become unstable.
- Poor footwear. Wearing shoes that crunch your toes and/or place all your weight toward the front of your feet may accelerate the development of toe deformities.
- Certain injuries, including stubbing, jamming, or breaking your toe, can make it more likely that a toe deformity will develop later.
- Neurological, autoimmune, or circulatory conditions. Diseases such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, cerebral palsy, stroke, and others can weaken toe muscles or damage nerves responsible for controlling them. Such conditions are particularly associated with claw toes.
What Can I Do About My Curled Toes?
Dr. Joel Foster provides effective treatment options for hammertoes, mallet toes, claw toes, and other toe deformities at his office in Lee’s Summit.
If you see us early enough, conservative treatment options may be effective. The goal of these treatments is to alleviate pain and discomfort, allow you to perform your favorite activities comfortably, and slow the rate of progression in the deformity. Non-surgical approaches we may recommend include:
- Buying wider, more accommodating shoes
- Wearing appropriate insoles or custom orthotics
- Using splints or taping to straighten out the toe (if still flexible)
- Pads to cushion the toes and protect them from painful friction
- Physical therapy exercises to strengthen toe muscles and prevent the imbalance from worsening.
If you find that your toes have become painful, and that conservative treatment is not allowing you to live the way you want to live without pain, we can provide surgical correction. Specific procedures may include releasing tendons to straighten the toe and/or removing part of the bone in order to allow it to lie flat.
If your toe deformity is related to a fundamental structural misalignment in your feet, you may also benefit from a surgical reconstruction. This may include HyProCure, a minimally invasive surgical procedure used to realign the hindfoot bones. We are the only Atlas-certified podiatrist in Missouri offering this treatment option.
But hopefully, it won’t come to that! If you want the best chance for non-surgical or minimally-invasive treatments to be successful, please see our office at the first sign of toes beginning to curl. You can reach our office at (816) 246-4222, or fill out a contact form online.