Understand your foot deformity symptoms, including 6 causes & common questions.
Foot deformity symptoms
Foot deformities are a wide array of conditions that affect the bones and tendons in the feet. A foot deformity can be as common as a bunion or a hammer toe, or rarer like fused toes (tarsal coalition), a club foot, a flat foot, mallet toes and various other foot conditions.
The symptoms and names of various foot deformities are listed below.
Characteristics of toe deformities or certain areas of the foot
- Bunions: Picture women wearing shoes very pinched at the toe and how it would push the big toe inward. Eventually, what happens in both men and women who wear cramped-box shoes, is that as the top of the toe moves in and the joint at the base of the toe protrudes outward, causing pain as shoes wear against the protrusion. It can also throw off the gait and cause imbalance.
- Claw toe: Claw toes are ones which begin to turn downward, resembling a bird's claw. This typically occurs on the smaller toes, not the larger ones. Claw toes can become a permanent condition if left untreated.
- Hammer toe(s): When you wear tight, uncomfortable shoes too often, this can cause the toes to become permanently bent, or "propped" up at the joint. This condition is called a hammer toe.
- Mallet toes: The opposite of hammer toes. Here, the toes dip downward at the joint, causing great discomfort when wearing shoes.
- Tarsal coalition: When a child is still growing, some of their toes can fuse together, especially at the upper part of the toe, where the toe joins the rest of the foot. This condition needs to be addressed immediately to ensure the child is not permanently affected.
Characteristics of foot deformities affecting the entire foot structure
Foot deformities can also be more widespread, affecting the entire foot structure.
- Clubfoot: With a clubfoot, the muscles on one side of the foot are shorter than the other, causing the foot to turn sharply inward. This forces the person to walk on the outside of the foot. A clubfoot deformity must be treated when the child is still an infant, to prevent permanent deformity.
- Flat feet (Pes planus): A flat foot has no arch at all. A flat foot is the most common structural deformity of the foot. It can be a congenital or acquired condition. Many people who carry very heavy weights or become obese can suffer from a flat foot from the pressure placed upon the arches. Injury to the posterior tibial tendon of the foot can also cause arches to fall and a flat foot condition to develop.
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Causes of a foot deformity
Foot deformities can be acquired or congenital.
- Lifestyle habits: Acquired foot disorders may arise because of wearing ill-fitting footwear, such as hammertoes and bunions, or because of gaining a lot of weight swiftly (bone spurs).
- Injury: If you've broken one or several toes, for example, you are more likely than others to develop a condition such as a hammer toe.
- Genetics: With regard to congenital disorders, like a club foot or fused toes, these are typically caused by simple genetics.
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
Hammer toes (contracted toe)
Hammer toe is a deformity of the second, third or fourth toe causing it to be permanently bent, resembling a hammer. It most frequently results from wearing poorly fitted shoes that force the toe into a bent position.
Top Symptoms: toe pain, hammer toe
Symptoms that always occur with hammer toes (contracted toe): hammer toe
Urgency: Primary care doctor
A bunion is a deformity of the joint at the base of the big toe. Certain footwear styles can worsen bunions.
Top Symptoms: bump on outside edge of big toe, big toe pain, toe pain that gets worse when wearing closed-toe shoes, foot ulcer, pain at the base of the toe
Symptoms that always occur with bunion: bump on outside edge of big toe
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Calcaneus fractures occur when a force that is stronger than the calcaneus itself is applied to the bone. Calcaneus fractures are rare, although they are the most commonly fractured tarsal bone. These fractures can occur in many different situations, but most commonly occur in high-..
An ankle fracture is a break in 1 or more ankle bones.
Top Symptoms: difficulty walking, constant ankle pain, swollen ankle, pain in one ankle, ankle pain from an injury
Symptoms that always occur with broken ankle: pain in one ankle, swollen ankle, ankle pain from an injury, constant ankle pain
Urgency: Hospital emergency room
Pes cavus is the presence of an abnormally high arch that can occur in either one or both feet and develop at any age. It results in significant pressure being placed on the ball or heel of the foot when walking or standing. Pes cavus is often due to an underlying neurological condition.
Pes planus, or flat feet, are a common and usually painless condition where the arches on the inside of the feet are flattened. Usually this is due to poor arch development during childhood.
Top Symptoms: pain in the top of the foot, pain in the middle of the foot
Urgency: Wait and watch
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Foot deformity treatments and relief
Physical therapy, in addition to wearing devices to help to correct the deformity, is the basic courses of treatment for less serious foot deformities . Surgery is required for conditions like clubfoot or fused toes .
- Corrective devices: Foot deformities can be treated through bracing, casting, and wearing supportive devices.
- Surgery: For more serious disorders, like fused toes, claw toes, or a clubfoot, surgery is necessary early in childhood to prevent permanent disability.
- Other braces and toe separators: Some acquired conditions, like bunions, can be corrected through braces or plastic toe separators that gradually separate the big toe from the second toe and back into its normal position. These are worn while you sleep, slowly correcting the inward-turning toe, which alleviates the protruding bone from rubbing against shoes.
- Exercises or stretches: Often for conditions like hammer toes, a podiatrist might recommend exercises such as picking up marbles with the toe, stretching the toes manually by hand several times a day, or wearing straps and other foot devices that help correct the bent part of the toe.
FAQs about foot deformity
Can diabetes lead to to a foot deformity?
Yes, diabetes can lead to a deformity called a Charcot foot. This deformity comes from loss of the ability to sense feeling and pressure on the foot. To prevent deformity to the foot, it is necessary to seek a physician and adequate primary care to properly and adequately manage diagnosis your diabetes.
How can arthritis cause a foot deformity?
Arthritis causes a foot deformity through inflammation and eventually breakdown of the joints of the foot. There are different types of arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis breaks down joints and bone by causing inflammation to erode healthy bone. Osteoarthritis occurs with wear and tear over a lifetime, and after the outer layer of bone is eroded, this can cause a joint space to collapse causing a deformity.
Does persistent wearing of high heels lead to a foot deformity?
Yes, persistent wearing of high heels especially heels that are too tight can lead to a splaying of the joint at the base of the big toe or the pinky toe. It is particularly aggravated by wearing narrow shoes or narrow high heels. It can also lead to formation of a bunion as the big toe is pressed inward and the weight of the body is forced onto the ball of the big toe.
Are all foot deformities painful?
No, all foot deformities are not painful. In fact, some foot deformities can be caused by a loss of sensation in the foot. Diabetic foot deformities, like a Charcot joint, are caused by loss of pressure sensation in the foot of a diabetic patient. While they can become painful later on from damage to the bone, they are often not painful early on.
Questions your doctor may ask about foot deformity
- Are you having any difficulty walking?
- How would you describe your walk?
- Can you stand on both legs?
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
- Lesser toe deformities. Oxford University Hospitals/NHS. OUH NHS Link
- Foot Pain and Problems. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Johns Hopkins Medicine Link
- Pediatric Foot Deformities: An Overview. Hospital for Special Surgery. HSS Link
- Matanovic DD, Vukasinovic ZS, Zivkovic ZM, Spasovski DV, Bascarevic ZLj, Slavkovic NS. Physical treatment of foot deformities in childhood. Acta Chir Iugosl. 2011;58(3):113-6.PubMed Link
- Gore AI, Spencer JP. The Newborn Foot. Am Fam Physician. 2004 Feb 15;69(4):865-872. AAFP Link