You may have heard of a hammer toe, but have you heard of mallet toe? The two conditions are as similar as a mallet is to a hammer, and are both toe deformities which result in the toes taking on the shape that matches their name. However there is a difference between the two conditions and that is the location of the toe deformity.
Hammer Toe or Mallet Toe?
Both a hammer toe and a mallet toe may appear to be the same to the untrained eye, as both produce a curvature in one or more toes. A hammer toe is where the bend is at the middle joint of the toe, whereas a mallet toe is where the bend occurs at the last of the three joints in the lesser toes. Specifically it is the distal interphalangeal joint which is the location of the deformity with a mallet toe, and the medial interphalangeal joint with a hammer toe. Both conditions cause the toe to bend upwards at the affected joint and to curl round giving a claw-like appearance to the affected toes.
The major cause which leads to the formation of a mallet toe is improper footwear. Any shoe which places pressure on the toes and does not allow them to align naturally can be detrimental to the joints of the toes in the long run. In the case of a mallet toe it is usually shoes with a short toe box which places pressure on the joints of the toes causing them to curl round to fit inside the shoe. In cases where footwear is not to blame, mallet toes can form due to inherited structural abnormalities in the toes, or from medical conditions such as diabetes, strokes and arthritis, or any condition which can affect the muscles.
Mallet Toe Symptoms & Treatment
Those who suffer from this condition often complain of stiffness in the toes which can lead to complete loss of toe flexibility. Due to the bending of the toe, the top of the affected toe often presses against footwear with the friction often leading to the formation of corns and calluses. In some cases the affected toe can be painful, although the deformity may be the only problem with no resultant pain.
In simple cases of mallet toe a change of footwear and simple treatment measures can reverse the condition; however, severe cases may require surgical intervention to correct the deformity. If left untreated and if no change is made to footwear the deformity is likely to become more pronounced.
Once you begin to notice the symptoms of a mallet toe forming, it is advisable to get a qualified diagnosis. Whilst the deformity can be easily diagnosed at home the extent of the problem needs to be assessed by a doctor to determine whether conservative treatments are likely to produce results.
The simple ways of managing the condition include the disposal of improper footwear and the adoption of well fitting shoes. The use of specialized orthotic shoe inserts will also help in making shoes fit better and taking any excessive pressure from the toe area.
When the toes become very rigid and painful, the last resort would be a surgical procedure which releases tendons that eventually allows the toes to straighten. Some bones in the affected toes may also have to be surgically removed or parts of the bone destroyed to help return proper alignment. The toes may need to be pinned in place whilst the bones are allowed to heal; which can take approximately 6 weeks. This is normally a minor surgical procedure that does not require hospitalization and it conducted on an outpatient basis with only a local anesthetic. There is likely to be some soreness after the procedure which is likely to persist for a few days to a week.