A hammertoe is a toe that is contracted at the middle joint of the toe, potentially leading to severe pressure and pain. Hammertoes may occur in any toe, except the big toe, since the big toe only has two joints and the other toes have three joints. There are two types of hammertoes: flexible and rigid. A flexible hammertoe can be straightened manually; and the pain is minimal. A rigid hammertoe will not move and is usually very painful.
A mallet toe is a toe that is contracted at the joint at the end of the toe. Mallet toes may occur at any toe. A mallet toe cannot be straightened and is always rigid.
In both hammertoes and mallet toes, muscle imbalances due to poor biomechanics in the toes cause a tightening of the ligaments and tendons of the affected toe, causing the joint to curl and stick up. Arthritis is a major cause of this type of toe deformity; however, there are many other neuromuscular diseases that can be contributing factors as well.
Hammertoes/mallet toes have restricted movement during walking, creating more stress on the ball of the foot. In both cases, shoe fit is a problem since the joint sticks up and rubs against the toe box of the shoe.
If you suffer from hammertoes/mallet toes, it’s important that you choose a shoe that has a deep toe box to accommodate the raised joint. Regardless of whether your hammertoes/mallet toes are flexible or rigid, a properly fitted shoe and a custom-fitted ezWalker® Custom Performance Orthotic is the best way to reduce forefoot pressures and support the foot to eliminate pain.
In the case of flexible hammertoes, a metatarsal pad added to the ezWalker® custom orthotic will release stress placed on hammertoes during walking. Adding a metatarsal pad to the ezWalker® custom orthotic is a minimal charge with a maximum benefit.
Rigid hammertoes/mallet toes will not be affected by a metatarsal pad. The pad will, however, free up pressure on the forefoot and is always a good option for relief. HTP heel seats can offer relief to hammertoes by securing your heel in the shoe, and keeping the forefoot from sliding forward and crowding the toes. HTP heel seats also add anti-shock to the heel strike while allowing more overall comfort.
Make sure you are fitting your shoes properly. Have your fit checked regularly; and remember the size on the measuring device is only a reference. Mass-manufactured shoes are NOT all created equal. Refer to the Shoe Fitting Reference Guide for proper guidelines on how to best fit your shoes.
In the case of flexible hammertoes, products like hammertoe crests and hammertoe splints are designed to relieve pain by holding the hammertoe down. Other products, such as gel toe shields and caps, are also recommended for rigid toe deformities to eliminate friction between the shoe and the toe joint, while providing lubrication and comfort. You can use an ezWalker® Custom Performance Orthotic with any one and/or a combination of these products, along with a deep toe-box shoe, for overall relief.
If your hammertoes/mallet toes become inflamed, heavily callused, develop open sores, or bleed, you must consult your doctor for proper treatment. Left untreated, these complications may lead to infection and the loss of toes or worse.
If you follow these guidelines and problems persist, seek the counsel of a physician for proper diagnosis and treatment.