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Mallet, hammer, and claw toes

Mallet, hammer, and claw toes are toes that are bent into a deformed position. Most often these seemingly strange and painful looking changes affect the four smaller toes.

  • A hammer toe is any of the second, third, or fourth toes that is bent at the middle joint, causing a deformity that looks like a hammer. Initially the toes can be corrected, but if left untreated, surgery is most often needed.
  • Claw toe affects the four smaller toes all at once. Here, the bend occurs closer towards the foot at the joint where the toes actually connect to the foot itself. They continue to bend at each joint until the toes actually curl down towards the floor.
  • In a mallet toe, the bend occurs at the last joint, on the end of the toe. It most often occurs in the second toe, but can happen in any of the other toes.

Causes and risk factors

  • Shoes that do not fit properly (most often too small)
  • Muscle imbalance
  • Increased pressure on the toes
  • Diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and stroke


  • Pain in the toes and feet
  • Corns or calluses on top of the deformed joint
  • Difficulty finding comfortable shoes

Diagnosis and treatment

Conventional treatment can be as simple as a new pair of shoes, allowing more room for the toes. An orthopedic surgeon may also prescribe some toe exercises and stretches throughout the day to counteract the tightening joint, and an over-the-counter pain medicine. Your doctor may also recommend using straps, cushions, or corn pads to relieve pain and symptoms.