Hammertoe is a contracture (bending) of one or both joints of the second, third, fourth, or fifth (little) toes. This abnormal bending can put pressure on the toe when wearing shoes, causing problems to develop. Hammertoes usually start out as mild deformities and get progressively worse over time. In the earlier stages, hammer toes are flexible and the symptoms can often be managed with noninvasive measures. But if left untreated, hammer toes can become more rigid and will not respond to non-surgical treatment. Because of the progressive nature of hammertoes, they should receive early attention. Hammertoes never get better without some kind of intervention.
Ill-fitting shoes or a muscle imbalance are the most common causes of Hammer Toe. If there is an issue with a muscle in the second, third or fourth toes preventing them from straightening, Hammer Toe can result. If one of these toes is bent long enough in one position, the muscles tighten and cannot stretch out. Left untreated, surgery may be required. Women are especially prone to developing Hammer Toe because of their shoes. Hammer Toe results from shoes that don?t fit properly. Shoes that narrow toward the toe, pushing smaller toes into a bend position for extended periods of time. High heels that force the foot down into a narrow space, forcing the toes against the shoe, increasing the bend in the toe.
The symptoms of a hammer toe are usually first noticed when a corn develops on the top of the toe and becomes painful, usually when wearing tight shoes. There may be a bursa under the corn or instead of a corn, depending on the pressure. Most of the symptoms are due to pressure from footwear on the toe. There may be a callus under the metatarsal head at the base of the toe. Initially a hammer toe is usually flexible, but when longstanding it becomes more rigid.
The exam may reveal a toe in which the near bone of the toe (proximal phalanx) is angled upward and the middle bone of the toe points in the opposite direction (plantar flexed). Toes may appear crooked or rotated. The involved joint may be painful when moved, or stiff. There may be areas of thickened skin (corns or calluses) on top of or between the toes, a callus may also be observed at the tip of the affected toe beneath the toenail. An attempt to passively correct the deformity will help elucidate the best treatment option as the examiner determines whether the toe is still flexible or not. It is advisable to assess palpable pulses, since their presence is associated with a good prognosis for healing after surgery. X-rays will demonstrate the contractures of the involved joints, as well as possible arthritic changes and bone enlargements (exostoses, spurs). X-rays of the involved foot are usually performed in a weight-bearing position.
Non Surgical Treatment
Your podiatrist may recommend one or more of these treatments to manage your hammer toes. Wear shoes with roomy toe boxes which don?t force your toes together. Exercises to stretch and strengthen muscles in the toes. Over the counter toe straps, cushions, and corn pads. Custom orthotic inserts. Toe caps or toe slings. In severe cases, surgery to release the muscles in the affected toes.
Treatment of a severe hammertoe that has become rigid includes surgery. What is done during the surgery depends on how misshapen and inflexible the toe is. The surgeon may make a cut over your toe and release the tendon by cutting the tendon away from the bone. The surgeon may remove a small piece of bone from the toe. The surgeon may realign the tendons to reposition your toe or fasten the bones with pins. Sometimes the surgeon may have to join the bones in the toe. In this case, you will no longer be able to bend the toe, but the toe will be flat.
The American Podiatric Medical Association offers the following tips for preventing foot pain. Don't ignore foot pain, it's not normal. Inspect feet regularly. Wash feet regularly, especially between the toes, and dry them completely. Trim toenails straight across, but not too short. Make sure shoes fit properly.