Although they are not quite as dexterous as our fingers, our toes play crucial roles in helping us walk and run more efficiently. Not only do they help our balance, their ability to flex as we move gives us a bit more forward propulsion as we push, lengthening our strides.
Toes that are properly aligned perform at their best, but sometimes an imbalance of the muscles and tendons can occur. This gradually shifts a toe out of its original resting form and into bent, uncomfortable shapes. These deformities come in several different forms—hammertoes, claw toes, and mallet toes—but the complications of each are pretty much equal.
How Bent Toes Take Shape
Several different causes can contribute to the development of a toe deformity. It is possible to be born with one, but other physical factors can also come into play. Shoes that don’t fit correctly can force the toes into abnormal positions that eventually cause an imbalance in the muscles and tendons. Likewise, injuries to the toes or conditions that affect the functioning of nerves and muscles in the toes can also be a cause.
Differences Between Deformities…
At a quick glance, the different forms of toe deformities may look the same. However, each is unique:
- A hammertoe is bent at the middle joint of the toe. It is most frequently found in the second toe, but any toe can be affected.
- A mallet toe is like a hammertoe, except the joint at the tip of the toe is the one that is bent. The end of the toe shifts downward.
- In a claw toe, the joint where the toe connects to the ball of the foot is bent upward. This can cause the middle joint and even the joint at the tip to bend downward in turn, causing the entire toe to curl and adopt a claw-like shape. Any toe can be affected except for the big toe.
…But the Same Kinds of Pain
All three types of deformity share the same general corral of potential symptoms:
- Pain while walking; especially in shoes
- Difficulty finding footwear that fits well and comfortably
- Corns and calluses caused by the deformity rubbing against the inside of shoes
In many cases, the bent toe still remains flexible at first. Over time, however, the toe may become rigid and unable to be moved.
Treating Your Toes
Deformities can often still be treated and managed conservatively while they are flexible. After an examination of the foot—and possibly a few tests if nerve damage is suspected—we can help you determine the best routes toward finding comfort, restoring efficient mobility, and keeping the deformity from growing worse.
Conservative treatments may involve finding shoes with larger room for toes, splints or taping to help hold the toes in their proper positions, and cushions or pads that can help relieve any abnormal stress or pressure being caused by a toe’s positioning. Exercises or physical therapy might also be recommended to help build strength and maintain flexibility.
If a deformity has become fixed, then surgical intervention is sometimes the only reasonable route toward finding relief. There are some cases where surgery might become a consideration even if the toe is still somewhat flexible. Surgery might involve realigning the tendons and ligaments, removing pieces of bone, and/or installing pins to hold the toes in place.
No matter how long you have had hammertoes, claw toes, or mallet toes, it is worth seeking help to restore comfort and take measures to keep the problem from progressing. The experts at Family Foot & Ankle Care of Jasper can help your feet feel good again. Contact our office at (812) 481-7200 to schedule an appointment and discuss the best plans of action to improve your quality of life.