A hammertoe is a misshapen second, third, or fourth toe. The toe bends up at the middle joint. The toe becomes a hammertoe because a muscle in the toe isn?t working properly or is too weak, increasing pressure on the tendons and the toe joints. Muscles normally work in twos to bend and straighten toes. If the toe stays bent too long, a hammertoe develops. Ill-fitting shoes, arthritis, heredity, even an injury, can cause the hammertoe to form. To add insult to injury, corns and calluses are common on top of hammertoes because the toe is rubbing against the shoe.
Essentially, hammertoes are caused by an abnormal interworking of the bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons that comprise your feet. When muscles fail to work in a balanced manner, the toe joints can bend to form the hammertoe shape. If they remain in this position for an extended period, the muscles and tendons supporting them tighten and remain in that position. A common factor in development of hammertoe is wearing shoes that squeeze the toes or high heels that jam the toes into the front of the shoe. Most likely due to these factors, hammertoe occurs much more frequently in women than in men.
People who have painful hammertoes visit their podiatrist because their affected toe is either rubbing on the end their shoe (signaling a contracted flexor tendon), rubbing on the top of their shoe (signaling a contracted extensor tendon), or rubbing on another toe and causing a painful buildup of thick skin, known as a corn.
The treatment options vary with the type and severity of each hammer toe, although identifying the deformity early in its development is important to avoid surgery. Your podiatric physician will examine and X-ray the affected area and recommend a treatment plan specific to your condition.
Non Surgical Treatment
Early on, when a hammertoe first starts and is still flexible, here are some ways it might be treated. Your healthcare provider may splint or tape the toe into the correct, normal position. You can use your fingers to stretch your toes and toe joints toward a more normal position. Exercise your toes by trying to pick up marbles with them or by wadding up a towel on the floor with your toes. Padding may be used to change where your weight falls when you walk on the foot.
If you are unable to flex your toe, surgery is the only option to restore movement. Surgery is used to reposition the toe, remove deformed or injured bone, and realign your tendons. Surgery is normally done on an outpatient basis, so you can return home on the day of your surgery.
Some different things you can do to help prevent hammer toes from forming and progressing do exist. You can wear supportive shoes to help prevent hammertoes deformities. Hammer toes are often times related to poor foot mechanics, particularly foot flattening. You can wear custom orthotics prescribed by a podiatrist; orthotics might prevent or slow the progression of hammer toes. You can also avoid shoes with narrow or pointed toe boxes that can compress your toes.