Deformities: Bunions, Claw Toes & Hammer Toes | Loyola Medicine

Deformities, Including Bunions, Claw Toes, and Hammer Toes

Overview and Facts about Deformities, Including Bunions, Claw Toes, and Hammer Toes

Hammer and claw toes are toes that are deformed and bent into abnormal positions, often causing pain. Hammer toes are bent downwards at the middle toe joint and most commonly affect the second toe. Claw toes typically affect the four small toes simultaneously. In this case, the toes bend upwards at the joint connecting the foot, and then down at the middle joint.

Bunions are formed due to enlarged tissue at the joint at the base of the big toe. Smaller bunions – known as bunionettes – may occur on the joint of your little toe. Bunions often occur with hammer toes.

Signs and Symptoms of Deformities, Including Bunions, Claw Toes, and Hammer Toes

Signs and symptoms of claw and hammer toe include the following:

  • Visible deformities of the affected toe
  • Pain in the affected toe
  • Swelling, inflammation and a burning sensation
  • An inability to straighten the affected toe

Signs and symptoms of a bunion include the following:

  • A swelling at the base of the big toe
  • Swelling and soreness around the big toe joint
  • Callouses or corns developing where the toes overlap
  • Intermittent or persistent pain
  • Restricted movement in the big toe

Causes and Risk Factors of Deformities, Including Bunions, Claw Toes, and Hammer Toes

The most common cause of claw and hammer toes is poor-fitting shoes. Shoes that are too tight can cause the toe muscles to become imbalanced. If a toe is bent for too long, the muscles will tighten and the tendons will contract. Over time, this will make it increasingly difficult to straighten the toe even without shoes on. This deformity can arise over years and is more common in women because they are more likely to wear narrow-fitted footwear or high heels. Less frequently, these conditions may be caused by stroke, rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes.

The exact cause of bunions is unknown, though it is believed that factors such as inherited foot type, congenital birth defects, and foot injuries may be involved. Medical experts disagree on whether ill-fitting shoes cause bunions or whether they merely contribute to bunion development.

Tests and Diagnosis of Deformities, Including Bunions, Claw Toes, and Hammer Toes

Your doctor will diagnose these conditions by examining your feet and manipulating your toes. Hammer toe, claw toe, and bunions are easy to see in a foot exam. In certain cases, your doctor may recommend an x-ray of the foot to see how the bone structure is affected.

Treatment and Care for Deformities, Including Bunions, Claw Toes, and Hammer Toes

If the toes are still flexible, hammer and claw toe can be treated with simple stretching exercises, along with switching to well-fitting footwear, pads, and straps to alleviate the pain. If the toes cannot be straightened, your doctor may recommend surgery.

Conservative treatment for bunions includes wearing well-fitting shoes, taking over-the-counter pain medications, wearing pads or straps on the affected foot and applying ice. If conservative measures do not help, surgery may be recommended.