When the toe joint curls up instead of lying flat, it is called a mallet toe. It usually affects the second toe since it is the longest but may affect the third and fourth toes too. A mallet toe on its own is usually not an urgent medical condition but if it is causing pain or compromising movement, it should be checked.
There are two types of mallet toes: flexible and rigid. Flexible mallet toes are movable while rigid mallet toes are frozen in a bent position. Some rigid mallet toes may remain bent permanently but there are ways to relieve toe joint pain and prevent further problems such as corns and calluses.
Causes of Mallet Toes
Mallet toes occur due to consistent trauma on the toes. This can happen due to:
- Bone and muscle imbalances
- Injury to the toe
- Tight shoes
Symptoms of Mallet Toes
- Curled or bent toes
- Redness and swelling
- Corns or calluses on the toe joint
- Pain when walking
- Toe sores or ulcers
- Thick toenails
How Are Mallet Toes Treated?
Your podiatrist will check if you suffer from mallet toes with a physical evaluation, a footwear check, a toes flexibility examination, a gait analysis, a foot X-ray and imaging tests. Based on this assessment, a treatment plan will be created which could include the following.
Conservative treatments like:
- Callus treatment
- Toe pads on corns or calluses
- Reducing inflammation with a steroid injection
- Toe stretches
- Roomy or open shoes
Sometimes, surgical intervention might be required:
- Arthroplasty is where a part of the toe bone that is bent is removed and realigned
- Tendon release to allow the toe to lay flat
- Tendon transfer to force the toe to straighten
Preventing Mallet Toes
Taking care of your feet can help prevent mallet toes. Some tips to prevent mallet toes are given below.
- Avoid wearing shoes that pinch your toes.
- Wear flat footwear with no heels to take pressure off your toes.
- Stretch your feet and toes regularly.
- Have your shoes sized by a sales professional.
If you suffer from mallet toes, it is wise to seek podiatric help. A good podiatrist will be able to offer relief from the pain and improve your quality of life.