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Family Foot & Ankle

Hammer, Mallet, and Claw Toes: How to Tell Them Apart

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If somebody asked where you could find a hammer, mallet, or claw, your first thought might be to send them to the nearest hardware store. However, we see plenty of each in our podiatry offices, too—specifically, hammertoes, mallet toes, and claw toes. Many have heard about these painful deformities, but we’re guessing not many could tell them apart. So, what’s the big difference, anyway?

The main difference between them is all about the joints—specifically, which joints are getting bent out of shape.

Most people have two interphalangeal joints in each of their four small toes—one in the middle, and one on the end near the nail. Include the base joint that connects the digit to the foot, and it makes three total.

When just the middle joint is bent, you have a classic hammertoe. If it’s just the end joint giving you problems, you can blame it on a mallet toe instead. Both of these conditions are most common in your second digit, especially if it’s longer than the others, but it can affect any of the four.

Claw toes, however, affect all three joints—it bends up at the base, down at the middle, and usually hooks in again at the end. Compared to the other deformities, which typically only affect the second digit, claw toes are more likely to affect all four at once.

Although they look slightly different and affect different joints, they share similar causes (usually shoes that are too tight, though a previous injury or nerve damage may be involved), progress in similar ways (they start out flexible, but become more rigid over time), and feature similar treatment methods as well.

If you notice your toes starting to dig downward, don’t wait to call Family Foot and Ankle Center. The sooner we can treat your hammertoes, mallet toes, or claw toes, the more likely you are to avoid surgery and painful complications such as blisters or corns. Schedule an appointment with us by calling (513) 728-4800 or (859) 282-1572, or requesting one online.

Dr. Cynthia Miller
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Dr. Cynthia Miller is a board certified podiatrist who has been established in the Cincinnati area since 2004.
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