MONDAY, Aug. 8 (HealthDay News) -- Hammer toes, curly toes, crossover toes and bunions are not only painful, they can be a red flag for other health problems, a new report warns.

According to a review published in the August issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, deformities of the lesser toes, which includes all the toes except for the big toe, should be treated as early as possible by an orthopaedic surgeon to avoid other complications.

"Toe pain can limit a person's quality of life," said the review's lead author, Dr. Khalid Shirzad, an orthopaedic surgeon at Northwest Orthopaedic Specialists, P.S., in Spokane, Wash., in a news release. "When it hurts to walk, that person will start decreasing time spent on activities they enjoy. If the initial problem is not treated, it may lead to further issues such as skin infections, deformities, and muscular problems."

Most often, the review authors pointed out, deformities of the lesser toes are the result of shoes that don't fit, or hurt. Other causes of these conditions include: injury; inflammatory arthritis; neuromuscular and metabolic diseases, such as cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis; and genetics.

Although diabetes doesn't directly cause toe deformities, it can cause people to lose sensation in their feet, and as a result, they may not notice when they have a painful toe injury or deformity, Shirzad explained.

These foot conditions -- in which the toes are bent, misaligned or curled -- cause redness, swelling, sores or calluses where the affected toes meet the inside of a shoe, the experts noted. There are, however, several effective nonsurgical treatments for these conditions, including:

  • Pads or gel sleeves to reduce pressure on the toe joint.
  • Wraps, tape or shoe inserts, which help align the toes.

Surgical options are also available for patients with persistent toe deformities, but surgery may involve reconstruction of the soft tissues, bones or both, the authors pointed out in the news release.

"The most important thing the public should take from this is to be conscious of your footwear," said Shirzad. "Well-fitted shoes that do not pinch the foot or constrict the toes can prevent many toe deformities."

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine provides more information on foot pain.