What Are Hammertoe and Mallet Toe?

What Are Hammertoe and Mallet Toe?

Hammertoe and mallet toe are abnormalities where one’s toes bend improperly because their tendons, ligaments and muscles cannot hold the toe straight. Hammertoe and mallet toe are often painful and can get worse over time. If your toes rest at unnatural angles, it may be beneficial to learn about the causes, symptoms and treatments of hammertoe and mallet toe.


Hammertoe and mallet toe are caused by similar physical issues, but each condition manifests slightly differently. The symptoms your feet are exhibiting can help you and your doctor determine which of these conditions you are experiencing.


Hammertoes occur if the joint forces the toe joint to stick up rather than lay flat. The affected toe will be stuck in a position that resembles a hammer. Hammertoes are most common in the second, third, fourth and fifth toes and affect the proximal interphalangeal joint. It might not be very easy to spot a hammertoe in its early stages if you are not familiar with the symptoms. Keep an eye out for:

  • Curled toe
  • Decreased flexibility or swelling in the proximal interphalangeal toe joint
  • Pain in the bent toe
  • Discomfort in the ball of the foot
  • Calluses or corns near the proximal interphalangeal joint
  • Toe redness
  • Toe inflammation
  • Lack of toe mobility or pain when trying to move the toe

Mallet Toe

Mallet toe is a condition that affects the distal interphalangeal joint, which is the joint closest to the toe’s tip. Like a hammertoe, a mallet toe occurs in the second, third, fourth and fifth toes. The second toe’s length sometimes makes it more susceptible to mallet toe.

Flexor muscles in the shin help the toes curl, so if the flexor digitorum longus muscle becomes overly stiff, it may force the distal interphalangeal joint to become stuck. Spotting the warning signs of mallet toe early and receiving prompt medical care can prevent the condition from worsening.

  • Curled toe
  • Toe pain (especially when walking or wearing shoes)
  • Calluses or corns near distal interphalangeal joint
  • Toe redness and swelling
  • Formation of toe sores
  • Noticeable difference in the toenail

What Causes Hammertoe and Mallet Toe?


Wearing high heels or shoes that are too small may contribute to the development of hammertoes and mallet toes.

Rock climbing shoes, for instance, are designed to be incredibly tight so that a climber’s foot is never flat. Rock climbing shoes are extremely uncomfortable initially, but climbers’ feet eventually become used to the abnormal position over time. Some climbers wear their rock climbing shoes so much that they are more comfortable with their toes curled.

Wearing certain kinds of shoes can cause hammertoes and mallet toes because they rarely offer arch support and place significant stress on the toe joints.


Sometimes the patient’s foot is the main contributing factor to the development of hammertoe or mallet toe rather than their choice of footwear. For instance, people with flat feet or feet with high arches have an elevated risk of developing hammertoes or mallet toes. People with genetic predispositions to foot instability may instinctively tighten their toes to better balance when they walk. In time, the toes could get stuck in this bent position.

Where Can Hammertoe and Mallet Toe Sufferers in Roseburg and Southwest Oregon Find Treatment?

The ideal treatment for hammertoe and mallet toe largely depends on the patient’s symptoms and the condition’s progression. If hammertoe or mallet toe is caught early—particularly before the patient experiences a notable decline in the toe joint’s flexibility, a shoe change/insert, toe/foot stretches or the removal of corns and callouses may suffice to correct the issue.

If surgery is required, you can trust Centennial’s podiatrist, Dr. Tovey, to perform your hammertoe or mallet toe surgery. Fill out our New Patient Forms and contact us by calling 541-229-2663 to schedule an appointment.