A hammertoe is a toe that is bent because of a muscle imbalance around the toe joints. The imbalance causes the toe to bend at one or more joints, pushing the middle of the toe upward in a claw-like position. If you notice such changes, it is important to seek proper treatment. Hammer toes never get better without some type of intervention and the sooner it is treated, the better the outcome.
Footwear can contribute significantly to the development of hammertoes. Shoes that are too small force your toes into a curled position. Over time, your toe tendons adjust to this positioning, causing your toe or toes to hold a hammered shape. Athletes may be especially susceptible, because of the increased forces on the toes from shoes that are too small or tight. Heel elevation in footwear is also problematic, as it causes your toes to be pushed hammertoe into the shoe?s toe box. Heel elevation additionally contributes to muscle imbalance. A common example of this is when your Achilles tendon-the tendon at the back of your leg that attaches your calf muscles to your heel bone-is too tight, causing the tendons on the top of your foot that attach to your toes to work too hard and hold your toes in an unnatural, elevated position.
Symptoms include sharp pain in the middle of the toe and difficulty straightening the toe. People with hammertoe may also develop blisters, which are fluid-filled pockets of skin, because the bent toe is likely to rub against the inside of a shoe. This increased friction may also lead to calluses, which are areas of thickened skin, and corns, which are hard lumps that may form on or between toes. Symptoms may be minor at first, but they can worsen over time.
The earlier a hammertoe is diagnosed, the better the prognosis and treatment options. Your doctor will be able to diagnose your hammertoe with a simple examination of the foot and your footwear. He or she may take an x-ray to check the severity of the condition. You may also be asked about your symptoms, your normal daily activities, and your medical and family history.
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 outgrow their shoes rapidly. See your podiatric physician if pain persists.
If conservative treatments fail and your symptoms persist, the doctor may recommend a surgical option to straighten the toe. The procedures used vary greatly, depending upon the reasons for the hammertoe. There are a number of different operations to correct hammertoes, the most common ones involve Soft tissue corrections such as tendon transfers, tendon lengthening, and joint capsule repairs. Digital arthroplasty involves removal of bone from the bent joint to allow the toe to straighten. The temporary use of pins or K-wires may be necessary to keep the toe straight during the healing period. Joint implants are sometimes used to allow for a better range of motion in the toe following surgery. Digital arthrodesis involves the removal of bone from the bent joint and fusing the toe in a straight position. If the corn is due to a bone spur, the most common procedure used is an exostectomy, in which surgically removing it or filing it down removes the bone spur. Because of the possible complications involved with any surgery, one should be sure to understand the risks that may be involved with surgery to correct hammertoes and remove bone spurs.