Hammer toes (hammertoe) is a deformity of the second, third, or fourth toes. In this condition, the toe is bent at the middle joint, into an upward position, causing it to resemble a hammer (sometimes decribed as ?curled toes?). Left untreated, hammer toes can become inflexible and require surgery. Toes which take on a curled appearance are hammer toes. Mallet toe is a similar condition, but affects the upper joint of a toe.
Hammertoe has three main culprits: tight shoes, trauma, and nerve injuries or disorders. When toes are crowded in shoes that are too tight and narrow, they are unable to rest flat, and this curled toe position may become permanent even when you aren't wearing shoes due to the tendons of the toe permanently tightening. When the tendons are held in one position for too long, the muscles tighten and eventually become unable to stretch back out. A similar situation may result when tendons are injured due to trauma, such as a stubbed, jammed, or broken toe.
Here is a look at some of the symptoms hammertoe can cause. They include hammer-like or claw-like appearance of the toe. Pain when walking or moving the foot. Difficulty moving the toe. Corns may form on top of the toe. Callus may form on the sole of the foot. During the initial stages, you may be able to manually straighten your toe. This is called a flexible hammertoe. But as time passes, the toe will not move as easily and will continue to look like a hammer. Pressure and irritation over the joint can cause a blister to develop and become a corn over time. These corns have the potential to become infected and cause additional symptoms such as redness, bleeding, and difficulty wearing shoes and socks. Corns are the main cause of pain when hammertoes are developing.
Most health care professionals can diagnose hammertoe simply by examining your toes and feet. X-rays of the feet are not needed to diagnose hammertoe, but they may be useful to look for signs of some types of arthritis (such as rheumatoid arthritis) or other disorders that can cause hammertoe.
Non Surgical Treatment
Apply a commercial, nonmedicated hammertoe pad around the bony prominence of the hammertoe. This will decrease pressure on the area. Wear a shoe with a deep toe box. If the hammertoe becomes inflamed and painful, apply ice packs several times a day to reduce swelling. Avoid heels more than two inches tall. A loose-fitting pair of shoes can also help protect the foot while reducing pressure on the affected toe, making walking a little easier until a visit to your podiatrist can be arranged. It is important to remember that, while this treatment will make the hammertoe feel better, it does not cure the condition. A trip to the podiatric physician?s office will be necessary to repair the toe to allow for normal foot function. Avoid wearing shoes that are too tight or narrow. Children should have their shoes properly fitted on a regular basis, as their feet can often hammertoes outgrow their shoes rapidly. See your podiatric physician if pain persists.
There are several surgical methods to correct a hammer toe. Your physician will decide which method will be most beneficial to you depending on the severity of your deformity, the direction the toe is deviating and the length of the affected toe. Some common surgical methods include. Arthroplasty. To promote straightening, half of the joint located directly underneath the crooked part of the toe is removed. Arthrodesis (fusion) To promote straightening, the joint directly underneath where the toe is crooked is completely removed. A wire or pin is inserted to aid healing. Tendon transfer. Performed alone or in combination with other procedures, a surgeon will take tendons from under the toe and ?re-route? them to the top of the toe to promote straightening. Basal phalangectomy. Performed to assist patients with severe stiffness, this procedure removes the base of the bone underneath the toe. Weil osteotomy. Performed to assist patients with severe stiffness, this procedure involves shortening the metatarsal bone and inserting surgical hardware to aid healing.
Walking barefoot increases the risk for injury and infection. Being on your feet throughout the day can cause them to swell, this is the best time to buy shoes to get a better fit. Do not buy shoes that feel tight. Do not buy shoes that ride up and down your heel as you walk. The ball of your foot should fit into the widest part of the shoe. Remember, the higher the heel the less safe the shoe will be. Avoid shoes with pointed or narrow toes. If the shoes hurt, do not wear them. If you start noticing the beginning signs of hammer toes, you may still be able to prevent the tendons from tightening by soaking your feet every day in warm water, wearing toe friendly shoes, and performing foot exercises such as stretching your toes and ankles. A simple exercise such as placing a small towel on the floor and then picking it up using only your toes can help to restore the flexibility of tendons.