Toes represent some of the most intricate structures in the human body, containing an array of 28 finely tuned bones, and even more muscles, tendons, and ligaments. We take our toes for granted without stopping to consider how they help us stay upright, balanced, and moving. A minor fault in their delicate structure can cause toe deformities, and can seriously disrupt our daily activities and quality of life.

If your toes appear deformed, you will likely experience pain and discomfort that worsens over time. Even if your feet feel fine now, deformities will progress causing symptoms if left untreated. We recommend you visit our office, sooner rather than later, to have those toes evaluated to ensure your toes keep doing their job.

What are the Different Types of Toe Deformities?

If one or more of your toes appear deformed, you are likely suffering from one of the following conditions:


Bunions are very common and characterized by a large bump on the inside of the foot – at the base of the big toe (hallux). As bunions worsen, the big toe often drifts towards the second toe, causing misalignment and toe crowding. This may even ultimately result in the hallux underlapping the second toe. 

Untreated bunions can become painful and arthritic, significantly affecting your ability to walk and participate in sports. Eventually, it may be impossible to wear normal shoes because of this deformity.

Please read our page on bunions for a more in-depth look at this condition, as well as the treatment options.

Hallux Rigidus

Also known as a “dorsal bunion”, hallux rigidus is a bump that occurs on the top of the foot at the base of the big toe. This is an arthritic condition resulting from previous injuries, like turf toe, or most commonly from impingement or jamming of the big toe joint during activity.

Hallux Rigidus commonly occurs in active people. It typically starts as an ache or soreness following periods of extended walking or standing in poorly supportive shoes, bare feet, or flip-flops. As the condition progresses, the bump on top of the joint will increase in size, there will be less range of motion at the joint, and you will have increased pain with less activity.

However, unlike a traditional bunion, the big toe will not drift towards the second toe. Read more about this condition on our Hallux Rigidus page.

Feet showing bunions
Toes curled as a result of hammertoes


If you feel a lump or marble beneath the ball of your foot while walking barefoot on hard floors, or notice swelling and/or instability at the base of your second or third toe, you may have capsulitis. 

The bone at the base of each toe (phalanx) is connected to a metatarsal (forefoot bone) with several ligaments and tendons, which creates a “capsule” designed to surround and stabilize that joint. Capsulitis occurs when the ligaments around the bones at the base of each toe become inflamed or damaged due to injury or overuse. This in turn will weaken the capsule and compromise its ability to hold the toe in place. 

In the early stages, capsulitis causes pain and swelling in the ball of the foot. As it progresses, the condition will cause instability and misalignment of the toes. In some cases, this instability will result in crossover toes.


A hammertoe occurs when the middle section of the toe arches upward. While symptoms may be mild at first, hammertoes tend to become painful and arthritic over time, causing significant mobility issues. 

Due to the shape of hammertoes, people with this toe deformity can develop painful corns on the top of the knuckle where the pressure of the shoe rubs against them.

Please read our page on hammertoes for a more in-depth look at his condition, as well as the treatment options.

Common Causes of Toe Deformities

The precise underlying cause of any given deformity will depend upon the deformity itself, as well as your circumstances. However, most toe deformities are caused by structural or genetic issues. 

For example, a flexible foot is prone to developing bunions, capsulitis, and hallux rigidus (arthritis of the large toe joint). A Morton’s foot (second toe longer than the first) tends to develop hammertoes and capsulitis. A high arch (cavus foot) is inclined towards hammertoe formation. Sometimes simply having one toe deformity can lead to another.

It is also worth noting that external factors such as shoe choice and repetitive injuries can affect the onset of digital deformities. If you are genetically prone to any of the deformities listed above, it is worth assessing whether your lifestyle and shoe selection will affect your long-term foot health. 

If you come into our office for toe deformities, Dr. Thomas J. Bobrowski will perform a thorough examination, review your past medical history, and question you about your condition to determine the underlying cause. All this information allows us to put together a comprehensive treatment plan most effective and appropriate for you.

General Treatment Approaches for Toe Deformities 

Most toe deformities are treated in one or more of the following ways:

  • Orthotics: Orthotics are shoe inserts designed to support, realign, and stabilize your feet to alleviate pain and prevent deformities from worsening.
  • Shoe modifications: Modifying the shape of your shoes can give your toes more room to move and prevent corns and pain.
  • MLS laser therapy:  MLS laser therapy will help relieve pain and inflammation in your toes while improving movement.
  • Splinting: Splints protect injured bones and tendons as they recover from swelling or injuries.
  • Surgery: While we do not recommend surgery for everyone, some patients find surgical correction of the deformity helps them regain control of their lives and eliminate pain in the long term.

Get in Touch Today!

Are your toe deformities affecting your life? Are you concerned about the long-term effects of your high arches or flexible feet? The InStride Crystal Coast Podiatry team is ready and waiting to take your call at (252) 638-4700. Or you can fill out an online request form and one of our staff members will call you to schedule an appointment.