Toe Anatomy and Deformities
Your foot is made up of 3 sections. Your forefoot is comprised of 4 smaller toes (phalanges) and 1 big toe (hallux). Each one of your smaller toes has 3 bones, as well as 3 joints, whereas your big toe only has 2 joints.
Your midfoot (metatarsal bones) and hindfoot (tarsal bones) make up your foot arches, instep, heel and ankle; these are responsible for weight bearing and propulsion. Your arches contain bones, ligaments, muscles and tendons of your foot, which require a lot of stability and flexibility.
Your toe bones work with your toe and foot flexor, extensor, lumbrical and interossei muscles to move your joints in 4 directions: dorsiflexion (moving toes upward), plantar flexion (moving toes downward towards sole of foot), abduction (move toes outward, away from each other) and adduction (move toes inward, toward each other). Your lower leg muscles have long tendons that cross your ankle and attach to your toe bones to help move them. The extensor digitorum longus and extensor digitorum brevis tendons attach on the top of your toes; the flexor digitorum longus and flexor digitorum brevis tendons attach on the bottom of your toes.
Flat feet, improper footwear, a major injury, or disease of your toe joints, can create an imbalance in your foot, which results in your smaller foot muscles being overpowered by your larger extensor and flexor muscles. Normally your toes will lie flat, however pressure on your toes or at the front of your foot can cause them to bend and curl. Any toes that stay curled have a toe deformity.
These deformities can affect all of your smaller toes, however most frequently you will notice them in your 2nd toe (as this can be the longest of all your toes; even longer than your big toe). You can also experience a toe deformity in more than one toe at a time.
There are 3 types of toe deformities that are very similar - hammer toe, mallet toe, and claw toe. These conditions can either be flexible (your joint has the ability to move) or rigid (your joint has very limited and/or no ability to move). Each of these conditions has unique characteristics in relation to how the toes bend and the degree of deformity; however they share similar symptoms and treatment methods.
Failure to treat these conditions can lead to the development of serious and disabling ways of walking and carrying your body, which can create alignment issues and problems with your hips or knees. Ignoring these symptoms can lead to a breakdown of tissue and/or infection.
Toe deformities are among the most common toe problems. Although both men and women are at risk, women are 5 times more likely to experience a toe deformity then men (often a result of improper footwear). Also, the chance of suffering from a toe deformity increases by 2 - 20% with age.