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Toe Deformities

There are a variety of different deformities that can happen to toes, and this page will focus on the deformities that effect -mainly- the second, third and fourth toes. Toe deformities, on their own, are not necessarily a cause for concern, however, they can cause discomfort in footwear, and may sometimes be a symptom of other conditions.

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Labelled diagram of the interphalangeal joints of the foot.

About Toe Deformities

There are three main deformities that can affect the toes:

  • Mallet toes

  • Claw toes

  • Hammer toes

A mallet toe, is where the deformity occurs only at the distal interphalangeal joint.

A claw toe is where the deformity occurs at both the distal and proximal interphalangeal joints.

A hammer toe is where the deformity only occurs at the proximal interphalangeal joint.

The deformities may be:

  • fixed, indicating that arthritis has set in. Or,

  • flexible, indicating that the deformity is due to the soft tissues around the toe. 

Symptoms of Toe Deformities

Toe deformities can cause symptoms in a few different ways:

  • Mechanical changes

    • When the toe is pushed 'upwards', the knuckle where the toe attaches to the foot is pushed downwards​​

  • Friction

    • Rubbing of the toe on shoes

    • Leads to forming:

      • corns

      • calluses​

      • blisters

  • Psychological

    • Feeling self-conscious of the appearance of the foot​

    • Avoiding social gatherings/wearing comfortable (or season-appropriate) footwear.

A man's foot with a hammer toe deformity of the second toe. This is where the second toe's proximal interphalangeal joint is in a flexed position.
A graphic of the complex anatomy of the bottom of the foot, demonstrating structures that can contribute to toe deformities.

What else could it be?

Toe deformities can also be a symptom of other conditions:

  • Hallux valgus

  • Hallux rigidus

  • Plantar plate injuries

  • Neurological disorders

  • Spinal injuries

How is a toe deformity diagnosed?

Toe deformities, as their names suggest, are fairly easy to spot, and, the diagnosis is only useful if a treatment plan is needed. 

In some instances, it may be useful to consider having an X-ray to check for arthritis or history of damage to the affected joints.

Otherwise, a clinical evaluation is adequate. 

A sagittal plane MRI view of the foot.
A lady wearing a toe prop on each foot. These props help to reposition the toes and redistribute pressure.

How are Toe Deformities treated?

Toe deformities can be treated in a number of ways, and these range from:

  • Doing nothing

  • Passive-conservative treatments

    • Toe props ​

    • Silicone wedges

    • Toe sleeves

    • Spacious footwear

  • Active-conservative treatments​

    • Taping​

    • Strapping

    • Orthotics

    • Manipulations & Mobilisations

  • Minor surgical: ​

    • Soft-tissue releases​

  • Major surgical:​

    • Reconstruction & amputation​

How long does it take to cure a toe deformity?

The answer will depend on the symptom being treated. If the symptom is the appearance, then surgery is probably the only option, in which case, you're looking at 6-8 weeks of healing time. 

If the problem is a painful corn on the tip of the toe, then the likelihood is that you will be able to say goodbye to the issue within 5 minutes of a podiatrist starting treatment. This being said, you then have to do the work in between the appointments and change your footwear accordingly. 

This is very much one of those YMMV (your mileage may vary) types of scenarios.

Lady running with her dog
Ready to say goodbye to your pain?

At Keep On Your Feet, we openly acknowledge that we cannot guarantee a cure for things: but we will work as hard as we can with you to help you reach your goals. 

If your symptoms fit the above, then you may benefit from either a regular podiatry or a 'foot pain' consultation. The regular podiatry consultation is £55 and the foot pain consultations are £95. Each lasts approximately 40 or 60 minutes respectively. If you are mainly concerned about corns and having a couple of strategies to manage your symptoms, then a regular podiatry consultation will be adequate; if you would like your symptoms to be dealt with in a more in-depth way, then we would encourage you to book a foot pain consultation to avoid disappointment.

This is a picture of Jeremy Ousey, director and podiatrist of Keep On Your Feet.

About the Author

Jeremy Ousey is the owner at Swansea's podiatry clinic: Keep On Your Feet. All the information found on this page was written by him (there's no AI or Chat-GPT here!), and has been carefully chosen to provide you with the information that you need to know about the condition. Jeremy has a Bachelor of Science in Podiatry, with honours, a Post-Graduate Certificate in Podiatric Sports Medicine, a Post-Graduate Diploma in Medical Ultrasound, and two Master's of Science degrees in the Theory of Podiatric Surgery, and Sports & Exercise Medicine. If you would like to know more about Jeremy, please click here.

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