Hammer toes and claw toes are both toe deformities that often result from hallux valgus and splay feet. With hammer toes, the distal phalangeal joint at the end of the toe is permanently bent. With claw toes, the toe’s metatarsophalangeal joint at the base of the toe is hyperextended. In their early stages, both of these toe deformities can be successfully corrected using conservative treatment – later on, surgery is often required.
Hammer toes and claw toes mostly occur in combination with hallux valgus (bunions) or splay feet. The unnatural bent or extended position of hammer toes and claw toes is the result of an imbalance in the foot’s muscles and tendons. This imbalance is caused by the same things that cause bunions: a congenital weakness of the connective tissue and wearing high-heeled shoes that are too tight.
The deformation and malpositioning of the toes leads to painful pressure points, the development of calluses (corns) and inflammation of the affected toes. When the symptoms first start to appear, it is still possible to straighten the toes. Over time, however, the toes become stuck in the incorrect position.
Hammer toes and claw toes can be diagnosed visually, because of their characteristic appearance. An x-ray examination is usually also carried out to precisely determine the extent of the bone deformity and check the condition of the toe joints.
The treatment depends on the extent of the deformity and the level of pain and discomfort. Initially, it is possible to try and correct the condition using conservative treatments such as shoe insoles, splints that are worn at night and sports tape. If conservative treatments prove insufficient, or the deformity is already too well established, then it is time to consider surgical treatments. Such operations correct the position of the toes, usually by shortening the toes. You can find out more about the surgical treatment options in the hallux valgus surgery section.