Hammer toe/mallet toe/claw toe

​A hammer toe is a relatively common and often painful condition affecting the three middle toes, making them appear permanently bent at the joint.

Hammer toe (also called claw toe or mallet toe) is where one or more of the middle toes appear bent. The condition causes the toes to stick out, causing shoes to rub and sometimes affecting the way you walk. This can cause further problems to develop such as blisters, calluses and corns, and, if it causes stress on the ball of the foot this can lead to referred pain (metatarsalgia) in other areas of the foot. Hammer toes can be a serious problem for people with poor circulation or diabetes.

The condition has two stages; flexible hammer toes (where toes can still be moved at the joint) and rigid hammer toes (where the joint cannot be moved). Rigid hammer toes occur at a later stage, where the tendons are locked in place, and surgery is usually required to correct this condition.

There are a number of potential causes of hammer toe. These include poorly fitting shoes, foot injury, rheumatoid arthritis and bunions. There is also a genetic tendency towards the condition.

The condition occurs when there is a muscle imbalance in the toes; this puts abnormal pressure on the tendons and joints, forcing the toe to become permanently bent over time.

Hammer toe is when one of the three middle toes becomes bent and rigid. Symptoms include:

  • Pain at the top of the toe joint
  • Corns or callouses on the top of the toe joint.
  • Swollen toe joint
  • Joint appears red
  • Toe joint is difficult to move, and painful when it does
  • Painful ball of the foot underneath the bent toe

Your doctor or chiropodist should be able to diagnose hammer toe after a short examination. You may be referred to a specialist for further tests and treatment.

Hammer toe/mallet toe/claw toe

Sometimes, when a hammer toe (mallet toe or claw toe) becomes rigid and causes further problems, such as referred pain or corns and callouses, surgery may be required to correct the condition.

What next?

If you are suffering with a suspected condition, you should seek the advice of your doctor who will be able to refer you to Benenden Hospital for diagnosis and treatment.

There are four ways to access treatment at Benenden Hospital which include self-funding, using private medical insurance or your Benenden membership, or through the NHS e-Referral scheme.