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Caring For Flexible And Rigid Mallet Toes

Mallet toe is a common condition that causes one or more toes to take on a misshapen appearance. The problem affects the third joint in a person’s toe, which is the joint closest to the nail, causing the tip of the toe to have a bent or curled appearance. Even if the condition is not painful, if you notice that one or more of your toes is starting to take on this bent appearance, you should take some proactive steps. We explain why you shouldn’t ignore mallet toes in today’s blog.

Causes, Types And Symptoms Of Mallet Toe

Mallet toes can develop for a few different reasons, but one of the most common contributing factors is a poor fitting shoe. If your shoes are too tight or too narrow, it can put abnormal pressure on your toes, forcing them to bend upwards in order to fit inside the shoe. Over time, all of this stress on your toes can damage or weaken the supportive ligaments that help to hold the toe in place through the joint. It’s this soft tissue damage that is at the heart of a mallet toe formation. Aside from ill-fitting shoes, an acute injury or arthritic degeneration can lead to tissue damage causing a mallet toe to form.

Mallet toes are typically grouped into one of two different stages – flexible and rigid.

  • Flexible Mallet Toes – Flexible or soft mallet toes are the more mild form of the condition. The affected joint and soft tissues still maintain some flexibility, and you may even be able to move your toes to help it lay flat, even if it wants to return to a bent position.
  • Rigid Mallet Toes – The progressed form of the condition is known as a rigid mallet toe. As the name implies, the affected soft tissues have been damaged such that they remain hard or rigid, making it difficult or impossible for the individual to get their toe to return to a flat position.

Symptoms of mallet toe as are followed, with symptoms typically becoming more noticeable or severe as the problem transitions from a flexible to a rigid state:

  • Discomfort
  • A visibly bent appearance
  • Corns or calluses on the tip of the affected toe
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Toe soreness

Diagnosing And Treating Mallet Toes

If you are dealing with any of the above symptoms or have noticed that one or more of your toes has started to take on a bent appearance, you’ll want to consult with your primary care provider or a foot specialist like Dr. McDonald. The main reason that you’ll want to begin a treatment plan, even if you aren’t really experiencing any uncomfortable symptoms yet, is that now is when the condition is most treatable. If you act while the problem is in its flexible form, you may be able to restore normal positioning and function of the toe joint. If you wait to act, it may be too late for conservative treatment to prove effective.

Your doctor can diagnose mallet toe with a short physical exam and by talking with you about your symptoms. An x-ray can provide more information, but it is not always necessary. If your provider believes you are dealing with a flexible mallet toe, they’ll walk you through some treatment options.

Treatment typically begins by having the patient pursue a few different non-operative techniques. Switching to a more comfortable and wider shoe is a must, while anti-inflammatory medications can help calm any irritation. Most providers will also recommend some physical therapy exercises to strengthen the affected soft tissues so that they can better stabilize the affected joint. Over the course of 6-12 weeks, many patients see fantastic results with adherence to a conservative care plan.

For rigid mallet toes or for issues that do not respond well to conservative care, a minimally invasive operation may be the preferred course. During the operation, the doctor will work to address the joint and the supportive soft tissues to ensure the toe returns to a normal alignment. You can expect to follow many of the conservative techniques previously mentioned after your surgical operation in order to restore as much function as possible to the joint. Total recovery may take a few months.

If you notice that one of your toes is beginning to take on a bent appearance, don’t delay. Reach out to your primary care physician or a specialist like Dr. McDonald to put the problem in the past. For more information, or for help with a different foot and ankle issue, give Dr. McDonald’s office a call today at (860) 244-8889.

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