Common Toe Deformities

What Are Toe Deformities?

Different types of toe deformities affect many people today. Some may occur over time, while others could be as a result of defects from birth. In addition, a variety of reasons may contribute to these common toe problems. For example, they may be due to an injury, a congenital problem, certain diseases that affect tissues and bones of the foot, or consequences of wearing ill-fitting footwear. 

Your toes are the digits in the feet. They are usually associated with various activities that make your daily life easy, fun, and fulfilling. For example, the toes help with walking, weight-bearing, providing balance, and other activities. 

Anatomically, your foot is divided into hindfoot, midfoot, and forefoot. The hindfoot and midfoot possess different structures. All these structures are responsible for bearing your body weight and performing various activities, which may include running and walking. On the other hand, the forefoot has up to four small toes known as phalanges, and one large toe referred to as the big toe or hallux. Phalanges have a total of three bones and three joints. The big toe or hallux has two bones and two joints. 

Toe deformities affect the alignment of your bones, tissues, and joints in the foot. Also, a deformity associated with your toes may affect the alignment of your weight-bearing joints such as the knees or hips, leading to more problems. In this article, you are going to learn more about the causes of toe deformities, the most common toe deformities, their symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment, including risk factors.

Causes of Toe Deformities

The most common toe deformities include:

  1. As mentioned earlier, toe deformities can be present at birth, congenital, or occur due to improperly fitting footwear or high-heeled shoes. These shoes can lead to curled toe positions that ultimately lead to a toe joint deformity
  2. Health conditions such as stroke, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoarthritis can also impact the functioning of nerves and muscles in your foot. Some of these health conditions may lead to tightening tendons and ligaments, causing toe deformities.
  3. Abnormal balance of your toe muscles can also be one of the ankle deformity types. This imbalance can lead to instability, which may eventually cause your toes to contract. 
  4. Trauma is yet another common cause of deformed toes. The trauma comes about due to an injury in which you jam, stub, or break your toe or some joints with your foot. 

Symptoms of Toe Deformities

Even though different toe deformities develop for different reasons, the fact remains that they are all progressive. For that reason, if left untreated, these types of foot deformities can worsen. 

Their symptoms may include:

  • Feeling a lot of pain when wearing shoes
  • Experiencing difficulties when looking for comfortable and properly fitting shoes
  • Hard skin outgrowths due to high pressure or frictions caused by wearing improperly fitting shoes.

Most Common Toe Deformities Conditions

Different types of foot deformities or toe deformities occur in adults and children’s feet. When they occur, they make walking, standing, or wearing shoes extremely uncomfortable and painful. 

Some of these common toe disorders include: 

  • Bunions

A bunion is a common toe deformity that causes your big toe to shift laterally and lie over your second toe. In this case, your first metatarsal bone deviates towards the medial side. When this shifting occurs, it leads to prominence over your medial aspect, particularly the metatarsal-phalangeal (MTP) joint. Usually, a fluid-file sac or bursa forms over the prominence, causing a painful bunion due to continuous inflammation and irritation. Factors such as structural foot anomalies and wearing narrow shoes are the leading causes of bunions. 

  • Tailor’s Bunions

Unlike traditional bunions , the tailor’s bunion (bunionette) is an uncommon toe deformity . However, a bunionette occurs at the fifth metatarsal-phalangeal joint. Padding may help relieve the pain and general discomfort. Otherwise, surgical correction is highly recommended.

  • Hammer Toes

The Hammer toe is one of the toe deformities that cause bending of your toe’s middle joint. The joint is medically referred to as the proximal interphalangeal joint or PIP. Even though the hammer toe  most commonly affects the second toe, it can also affect other toes. It may be caused by wearing tight-fitting shoes. This condition may cause your toes to bend forward. Unlike other toe deformities, the hammer toe does not cause pain or need specific treatment. However, wearing well-fitting footwear that has enough space to keep your toes comfortable throughout can help prevent hammer toe.

  • Mallet Toes

Mallet toes describe a toe deformity that causes downward bending of your toe’s third joint or the distal interphalangeal (DIP) joint. The condition gives your toe a mallet-like appearance. Besides, calluses or corns may develop over the toe deformity due to constant friction between the toe and footwear. This toe deformity can be inherited or caused by wearing high-heeled or tight shoes. 

  • Claw Toes

This is a very rare type of foot deformity. . Claw toe can affect all your toe joints, leading to hyperextension of the MTP joint (first joint) or flexion of the PIP (second joint) and DIP(third joint). This common toe problem can be due to altered structural anatomy or a neurologic disorder (condition) that causes an imbalance in your toe muscles. 

  • Brachymetatarsia

Also known as short toe disorder, brachymetatarsia is among the common toe problems experienced by people of all ages today. It occurs due to abnormal overlapping of short toes. The fourth is the most affected. 

How To Diagnose Toe Deformities? 

 Diagnosis of toe deformities:

  1. X-Ray-This toe deformity diagnosis test involves using detailed black and white images created on a film by an X-ray machine to show the structure of the affected toe joints. The X-ray will further uncover any abnormalities that could be in the bone structure.
  2. MRI-The other diagnostic test that your orthopedic surgeon may suggest is the MRI test. With this option, your surgeon will be able to identify the most affected joints in your toes by observing images created after scanning the affected toes.
  3. Physical examination: Evaluating the foot and taking it thru range of motion.

Treatments of Toe Deformities 

After a successful diagnosis of your toe deformities, your orthopedic  surgeon will decide whether to offer nonsurgical or surgical treatment.

  • Nonsurgical Treatment

Once the symptoms of your deformity have been established, your physician will start with the nonsurgical treatment option. Normally, this option applies where the symptoms are mild. The doctor will recommend conservative treatment options like wearing shoes that provide a loose and comfortable fitting, use of orthotics, and custom-made shoe inserts to help reposition your toes. 

  • Surgical Treatment

If symptoms become severe to the point of interfering with your walking ability, your physician may consider a surgical treatment approach. The surgeon will perform a bunionectomy procedure to remove the bunion, balance the muscles and tissues within the joint or realign the bones in the big toe. For the bent position of your toes, the surgeon will perform hammertoe surgery releases. This surgical procedure will also help relieve pain, get rid of discomfort and increase the overall functionality of your toes and foot. 

Risk Factors of Toe Deformities

Risk factors associated with toe deformities may include:

  • Age-The risk of toe deformities increases with age.
  • Sex-Women are more likely to develop toe joint deformity than men.
  • Toe length-Longer second toes are at a higher risk of toe disorders than the big toe.
  • Certain diseases-Diabetes and arthritis can make you more susceptible to foot deformities. Also, heredity may contribute to different types of toe deformities.

Prevention of Toe Deformities

You may be able to  prevent cases of deformed toes or deformed feet in the following ways:

  • Wearing shoes that provide adequate toe room
  • Using low heeled shoes
  • Wearing shoes that have laces or straps for easy adjustability
  • Buy the right size of shoes

If you experience toe deformities, you can visit Sforzo l Dillingham l Stewart Orthopedics +  Sports Medicine for treatment. Dr. Christopher L. Dillingham will attend to your needs. 

Final Thought

Different types of foot deformities may become a source of discomfort and pain. They may also lead to serious cases of disability and far more reaching health problems. Most common toe deformities include hammer toes, claw toes, mallet toes, and many more. Reach out to  Sforzo | Dillingham | Stewart Orthopedics + Sports Medicine for toe deformities diagnosis and treatment. 

Focusing On You

As healthcare is ever changing, Sforzo | Dillingham | Stewart Orthopedics + Sports Medicine, is doing things differently…

  • Christopher R. Sforzo, M.D. is a board certified orthopedic surgeon and fellowship trained in hand and upper extremity surgery. He provides expert care in the treatment of problems involving the shoulder, arm, elbow, forearm, wrist and hand. He performs many procedures using minimally invasive techniques includi
  • Christopher L. Dillingham, M.D. is a board certified orthopedic surgeon and fellowship trained in hand, shoulder, and arm surgery. He specializes in the treatment of problems with rotator cuff disorders, carpal tunnel syndrome and nerve injury, joint replacement, arthritis surgery, fracture repair, foot and ankle
  • Charles E. Stewart M.D. is a board certified, Johns Hopkins fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon specializing in adult complex reconstruction of the lower extremity. His specialties include, lower extremity sports injuries, meniscal injuries, partial knee replacement, total hip and knee arthroplasty (replacement), as
  • Philip A. Meinhardt, M.D. is a board certified orthopedic surgeon and fellowship trained spine surgeon. He specializes in adult spinal surgeries including reconstruction of spinal deformities, minimally invasive/microscopic spinal procedures, decompression, spinal instrumentation, fusion procedures and microscopic cer



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