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What is Mallet Toe?

In mallet toe, the joint at the end of the toe, known anatomically as the DIP joint, is the one that buckles. Unlike in hammer toe, which is the skin near the toenail develops a corn that is painful and may ulcerate. The other joint remains relatively normal.

Again, if the deformity is not treated the toe may become permanently fixed and rigid.

Cause of Mallet Toe

This condition can result from a "jamming" injury to a toe. As the second toe is the longest, it is the most commonly affected. Mallet toe can also result from wearing shoes that are too tight. Other causes include:

  • Bone and muscle imbalances
  • Arthritic conditions
  • Restrictive or poorly fitting shoes

Symptoms of Mallet Toe

Besides pain and an obvious mallet-shaped deformity to the toe, symptoms may include:

  • Changes in gait and balance
  • Redness and swelling on and around the affected toe
  • Corns or calluses where the toe bends and rubs
  • An infection may develop
  • Ulcers sometimes develop in patients with diabetes, who have decreased sensitivity in the foot
  • It may be difficult to find shoes that accommodate the deformity

Treatment of Mallet Toe

  • Using a pumice stone on calluses regularly
  • Wearing shoe inserts, known as orthotics
  • Wearing a cushioned pad over the tip of the toe
  • Avoiding high heels
  • Stretching the upper part of the shoe to help accommodate a fixed mallet toe
  • Strengthening toe muscles with exercises such as picking up marbles with the toes and stretching exercises
  • Wearing shoes with soft and roomy toe boxes (at least ½ inch longer than the longest toe)
  • Wearing soft pads over the corns or calluses

If the mallet toe has become is rigidly fixed in an inflexible position, surgery may be required. The goal of surgery is to realign the toe.

Procedures may include:

  • Cutting or lengthening tendons
  • Insertion of a steel pin to fix the corrected position of the toe
  • Partial amputation of the affected toe

If surgery is required, a period of several weeks in an open-toed surgical shoe that acts like a splint will probably be needed.

Living with Mallet Toe

Any change to one part of the foot significantly affects habitual ways of walking and standing. Left untreated, foot ailments such as claw toe, hammer toe, or mallet toe may produce problems in other weight-bearing joints, such as the hips or knees.

Any forefoot problems causing pain or discomfort should be given prompt attention. People who experience problems with their feet should seek advice from an experienced physician or podiatrist who can evaluate the risks, benefits, and possible complications of various treatment options. Patient compliance is particularly important in the treatment of these conditions.

Ignoring the symptoms of deformities of the toes can aggravate these conditions and lead to a breakdown of tissue, or even infection. Conservative treatment starts with accommodating the deformity. The goal is to relieve pressure, reduce friction, and transfer force from the sensitive areas. If surgery is recommended, it is important to fully understand and follow the recommendations of the surgeon before and after the procedure.

The information provided herein is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting a licensed physician.

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