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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Mallet toe

Matiwae kuru

Mallet toe is like hammertoe, but it affects different joints. If you have mallet toe, one or more of your toes bends down abnormally from the joint closest to the tip of your toe. In hammertoe the bend happens at the middle toe joint.

Mallet toe can affect your big toe, second, third or fourth toe. It can be painful and disabling.

Causes of a mallet toe

A mallet toe bends at the joint between the top and second bone. A hammertoe bends at the joint between the second and third bone.Several things can lead to mallet toe. They include:

Your risk of getting mallet toe increases as you get older. It's more common in women than in men and having a second toe that is longer than your big toe may also increase your risk.

Symptoms of a mallet toe

The symptoms that suggest you're developing mallet toe include:

If you can still straighten your toe, it's called flexible mallet toe. If you cannot move it at all, it's called fixed mallet toe.

Pressure on the top of the toe joint can cause irritation. You may develop a corn on the top of your toe, and a callus on the bottom.

Corns and calluses can become painful and cause extra symptoms, such as redness, bleeding and difficulty wearing socks and shoes.

Preventing a mallet toe

The best way to avoid mallet toe is to make sure you wear shoes that fit you properly. Podiatrists suggest you get your feet measured properly. Then, when buying shoes:

Limit how often you wear high heels and do stretches and exercises such as picking up objects with your toes to keep them flexible.

When you're buying shoes for tamariki (children), make sure the shoes are fitted properly, especially at times when the tamariki are growing rapidly.

You can prevent many foot problems by following a few simple steps:

Treating a mallet toe

As long as mallet toe is not painful or changing the way you walk, it doesn't need to be treated.

Treatment focuses on relieving the pressure under the tip of your toe. You may need special footwear that has extra depth around the toe to alleviate this pressure.

Seeing a podiatrist for orthotics or toe protectors can often help. If the joint is still mobile (not fixed), physiotherapy can also help. You can find a podiatrist by searching on the Podiatry NZ website. You can find a physiotherapist by searching on the Physiotherapy NZ website.

Occasionally, if podiatry and physiotherapy have not improved your pain, you may need surgery. This is unlikely to be covered by the public health system, but you may ask your general practice team to refer you to a private orthopaedic surgeon.

If your mallet toe happens after an injury, this might be treated with plaster. See your health professional to check if you need any treatment.

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed April 2023.


Page reference: 340383

Review key: HICCA-28239