Hammer, mallet and claw toes occur when ligaments and tendons in the toe tighten and cause the toe joints to stay bent. These conditions typically occur in the smaller toes and can affect one or all of these four toes on a foot. Depending on the severity of the condition, the deformed toes can remain flexible or become rigid. A flexible toe will remain bent but will straighten when pressure is applied to the buckled area but a rigid toe will not straighten at all.
A hammer toe affects the first two joints of the toe, causing the toe to bend and raise the second knuckle upward.
A mallet toe affects the last joint at the end of the toe, causing the knuckle closest to the toenail to bend and point the toe tip downward.
A claw toe looks like a combination of a hammer toe and a mallet toe. It affects all three joints of the toe, causing the second knuckle to bend upward and the last knuckle to curl underneath it with the toe tip pointing downward.