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.
Many people develop hammertoe because they wear shoes that are too tight. Shoes with narrow toe boxes squeeze the toes together, forcing some to bend. This causes the toe muscles to contract. If the toes are forced into this cramped position too often, the muscles may hammertoe permanently tighten, preventing the toes from extending. Chronic hammertoe can also cause the long bones that connect the toes to the foot, called metatarsals, to move out of position. The misaligned metatarsal bones may pinch a nerve running between them, which can cause a type of nerve irritation called a neuroma.
The most common symptoms of hammertoes include. The toe is bent upward at the middle toe joint, so that the top of this joint rubs against the top of the shoe. The remainder of the toe is bent downward. Pain upon pressure at the top of the bent toe from footwear. The formation of corns on the top of the joint. Redness and swelling at the joint contracture. Restricted or painful motion of the toe joint. Pain in the ball of the foot at the base of the affected toe. This occurs because the contracted digit puts pressure on the metatarsal head creating callouse and pressure on the ball of the foot.
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
Symptomatic treatment of hammertoes consists of such things as open toed shoes or hammertoe pads. There are over the counter corn removers for temporally reducing the painful callous often seen with the hammertoe. These medications must be used with caution. They are a mild acid that burns the callous off. These medications should never be used for corns or callouses between the toes. Persons with diabetes or bad circulation should never use these products.
If these non-invasive treatments don?t work, or if the joint is rigid, a doctor?s only recourse may be to perform surgery. During the surgery, the doctor makes an incision and cuts the tendon to release it or moves the tendon away from or around the joint. Sometimes part of the joint needs to be removed or the joint needs to be fused. Each surgery is different in terms of what is needed to treat the hammertoe. Normally after any foot surgery, patients use a surgical shoe for four to six weeks, but often the recovery from hammertoe surgery is more rapid than that. An unfortunate reality is that hammertoe can actually return even after surgery if a patient continues to make choices that will aggravate the situation. Though doctors usually explain pretty clearly what needs to be done to avoid this.
Few people realize that their feet grow over the years: actually, the heel stays the same, but the front of the foot becomes wider and longer. The result, most women wear shoes that fit at the heel but are much too narrow in the front. Buy shoes that fit the longer foot. For two out of three people, one foot is significantly bigger than the other. Have both feet measured whenever you buy shoes. Have your feet measured while you're standing, and buy shoes that fit the larger foot. Shop at the end of the day, when foot swelling is greatest. No shoe should feel tight. Don't go by numbers. You may think of yourself as a size 8B, but size varies from shoe to shoe. There is no standardization, so pick the shoes that fit best. Limit high-heel use. These shoes increase pressure on the front of the foot by at least 50 percent, so wear them only for special occasions. Flat shoes are more comfortable than high heels, but they, too, can be hard on your feet, especially if they are thin-soled. Change your shoes. If your shoes are too short or too narrow, get another pair. This is especially important for children going through periods of rapid growth. The toe area should be high enough so that it doesn't rub against the top of your toes-especially if hammer toes have started to develop.