Hammer, Claw and Mallet Toes

The symptoms of these conditions are toes that appear curled under to varying degrees.

Hammer, Claw, and Mallet Toes are variations of deviant toe malformation that are neither genetic nor trauma-based.

 Symptoms       Causes        Solutions

Dr. Sam Dubé discusses hammer, claw, mallet toes

Learn about the symptoms, causes, and benefits of different treatment options.

 What causes these conditions?

Hammer, claw, and mallet toes are usually caused by an imbalance of the flexor and extensor muscles at the relevant joints, especially when one muscle group overpowers the other. These poor foot mechanics often develop when unhealthy footwear is used over extended periods.

There are two muscle groups that control joint movements:

  • Flexors cause the toes to bend downward

  • Extensors cause the toes to rise

These two groups naturally oppose each other but, when they work together, they produce a balanced tension that keeps the joints properly aligned.

They are further subdivided into two muscle types:

  • Intrinsic muscles, which are the small muscles in the foot. These muscles are involved in finer movements.

  • Extrinsic muscles, which are muscles in the lower leg that are connected to the foot via long tendons. These muscles help stabilize the foot during weight bearing activities.

These conditions occur as a result of intrinsic muscle activity attempting to stabilize the foot’s arch when the extrinsic muscles have failed to do so.

Modern science has identified that the nervous system plays a critical role in stabilizing the feet and ankles when walking or running. It is now understood that poor arch stability is a symptom of inefficient neuromuscular function caused by conventional footwear use. In fact, conventional footwear use causes poor neuromuscular function throughout the feet, legs, hips, and back, when:

  • the soles of the feet don’t receive the subtle, varied stimulus that the nervous system requires for healthy function, and

  • snug toe boxes, stiff midsoles/outsoles/uppers and tight lacing restrict healthy foot movement.

To learn more about how your footwear affects function and performance, click HERE.



The best way to prevent and treat hammer, claw, and mallet toes is to retrain healthy neuromuscular function and to use footwear that is soft, flexible, and roomier in the forefoot.

Conventional treatment methods for hammer, claw, and mallet toes

Since the late 1890s, the standard treatment for poor foot mechanics has been to artificially support the foot with an orthotic. Other conventional treatment options include:

  • taping/splints

  • modified footwear

  • surgery

Modern science has transitioned away from using long-term support on any body part because it causes a progressive weakening of the body part being supported.

The modern approach to treating hammer, claw, and mallet toes

Science has shown that merely challenging the body to “do its job” is the best way to restore and enhance function.

The modern approach to address poor neuromuscular function is to employ a “Proper Technique” rehabilitative therapy to regain healthy function. This approach is extensively used pre- and post-surgery and is also the foundation of virtually all sports training/rehabilitation programs. By employing a therapeutic approach, the feet become stronger and more stable, thereby addressing the cause of the poor foot mechanics that contribute to the formation of these conditions. Proper Technique therapies employ exercise that focuses on safely training healthy neuromuscular function, i.e., optimal mobility, muscle strength, stability, and alignment.

Proper Technique therapies require both Right Stimulus and Right Movement.

Right Stimulus occurs when the information that the brain receives from the senses triggers an efficient protective reflex function or Right Movement. The nerve endings in the soles of the feet play a critical role in providing the brain with the information required for optimal Right Movement throughout the feet, legs, hips, and back. When the brain receives insufficient or inaccurate information from the soles of the feet, the protective reflex function Right Movement will be ineffective or absent altogether. This is what happens when conventional footwear is worn. For more information on Right Stimulus and Right Movement, click HERE.

To therapeutically address the cause of hammer, claw, and mallet toes and to prevent them from recurring, do the following:

      • Walk barefoot on natural terrain as much as possible. This provides the optimal Right Stimulus and allows for the Right Movement required for healthy neuromuscular function.

      • Use Biopods® Stimsoles® Footwear or Insoles. Biopods Footwear provides the ultimate Proper Technique shoe environment. Biopods Insoles improve the stimulus in your conventional footwear. They work best in loosely laced, soft, flexible footwear with ample toe room that allows your arches and toes to rise easily for best results.

      • Consult with your healthcare practitioner to ask about employing soft tissue mobilization therapies to address the fibrotic tissue that may have formed prior to using Biopods.

For more information on what to expect when using Biopods, click HERE.

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