The lesser digits in the foot are prone to deformity when there is an imbalance to the muscles, tendons, or ligaments surrounding the toe joints. These imbalances can occur due to faulty biomechanics, having excessively long toes, neuromuscular disease, systemic conditions (such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes), ill-fitting footwear choices, and genetics. Depending on where the bend in the toe occurs, the descriptive name for each deformity is given. Lesser toe deformities are commonly seen in a high arched foot or a foot with bunions. Continue reading to find out more about the different types of lesser digital deformities and how they can be prevented and treated.
A mallet toe has an abnormal bend in the joint of the toe that is closest to the toenail.
A hammer toe has an abnormal bend in the middle joint of the toe. This term is commonly used as a general term to describe all lesser toe deformities.
A claw toe has an abnormal bend in both the middle joint and the last joint closest to the toenail of a toe.
A retracted toe is very similar to a claw toe. In fact, it is a claw toe that is also pulled back or retracted so that the digit abnormally bent but also lifted from the ground.
All lesser toe deformities can either be flexible or rigid. The aim of treatment is to keep the joints in the toe flexible and prevent progression to a rigid deformity.
Wearing shoes that are the correct size is the simplest thing you can do to help your feet. If you do not know your foot size, use a standard foot measuring device to measure your foot before you purchase shoes. Always trying on shoes and walking around the store in them before purchasing will also help to determine if they fit properly. As a general rule, there should be about 1 cm distance between the longest digit and the end of the shoe. If you have digital deformities, look for shoes that are wide and deep enough at the toe box. Bring your shoes to Feet First Clinic if you want them stretched to accommodate bunions and hammer toes. Finally, avoid wearing unsupported shoes such as flip flops that encourage your toes to grip the shoe as you walk. Instead, opt for shoes that have arch support in the foot bed, a cushioned sole, and a minimal to low heel.
Faulty foot mechanics such as overpronation, which is the movement exhibited when your foot rolls towards your arches as you walk, can be a major culprit of hammer toes. In a pronated foot, the smaller muscles in the foot lose their function and the larger muscles gain mechanical advantage causing the toes to curl. The good news is that overpronation can be corrected and managed by custom foot orthotics -functional devices that are made to support, stabilize, and align the foot in its most anatomically efficient position.
Lesser toe deformities can result in areas of increased pressures on the digits and consequently painful corns and/or calluses in these places. See your local chiropodist for debridement of these painful lesions and ask him or her about any over the counter toe supplies such as, hammer toe crests and silicone toe sleeves that may help.
As mentioned previously, toes bend abnormally due to muscular imbalance. This muscular imbalance can be caused by weak muscles in the foot and lower limb. Stretching and strengthening exercises will help to maintain flexibility in the digits and prevent less toe deformities.
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