The term, Hammer toe, is commonly used as a general classification for any condition where the toe muscle weakens, causing digital contracture, and resulting in deformity, a digital contracture like this can actually be a hammertoe, claw toe or mallet toe, depending on which joints in the toe are contracted. Clawtoes are bent at the middle and end joints, while hammertoes are bent at the middle joint only. When it?s mallet toe, the joint at the end of the toe buckles. The skin near hammertoes the toenail tip develops a painful corn that can eventually result in an ulcer. Doctors further categorize all forms of hammertoe based on whether the affected toe is flexible, semi-rigid or rigid. The more rigid the toe, the more pain it will cause.
Hammer toe usually affects the second toe. However, it may also affect the other toes. The toe moves into a claw-like position. The most common cause of hammer toe is wearing short, narrow shoes that are too tight. The toe is forced into a bent position. Muscles and tendons in the toe tighten and become shorter. Hammer toe is more likely to occur in women who wear shoes that do not fit well or have high heels and children who keep wearing shoes they have outgrown. The condition may be present at birth (congenital) or develop over time. In rare cases, all of the toes are affected. This may be caused by a problem with the nerves or spinal cord.
The most obvious symptom of hammertoe is the bent, hammer-like or claw-like appearance of one or more of your toes. Typically, the proximal joint of a toe will be bending upward and the distal joint will be bending downward. In some cases, both joints may bend downward, causing the toes to curl under the foot. In the variation of mallet toe, only the distal joint bends downward. Other symptoms may include Pain and stiffness during movement of the toe, Painful corns on the tops of the toe or toes from rubbing against the top of the shoe's toe box, Painful calluses on the bottoms of the toe or toes, Pain on the bottom of the ball of the foot, Redness and swelling at the joints. If you have any of these symptoms, especially the hammer shape, pain or stiffness in a toe or toes, you should consider consulting your physician. Even if you're not significantly bothered by some of these symptoms, the severity of a hammertoe can become worse over time and should be treated as soon as possible. Up to a point hammertoes can be treated without surgery and should be taken care of before they pass that point. After that, surgery may be the only solution.
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
Prescription strength medicines to decrease pain and inflammation. Physical Therapy. To strengthen poorly functioning muscles and stretch tight muscles that may be exacerbating the toes. Special ultrasound techniques may reduce inflammation. Custom Foot Orthotics. An orthotic with an exact mold of your foot to better align and support the foot to ease current discomfort and prevent future progression. Toe Splints or Pads. Specific pads may prevent pressure and physical irritation in shoes. Toe splints and toe spacers physically realign the toes and can lessen pain and halt or stall hammer toe progression. Cortisone injections are strong anti-inflammatory agents to decrease pain, and swelling directly at the toe region. Injections only treat the symptoms, and in some cases used in caution (and sparingly) they can weaken supporting ligaments of the toe(s).
If your toe is not bendable, your doctor may recommend surgery. The type of surgery that will be performed will depend on the severity of the condition. You should expect blood and urine studies before the procedure, as well as x-rays of your feet. Your doctor will inject either a local or regional anesthetic. If your toe has some flexibility, the doctor may be able to straighten it by simply making an incision in the toe to release or lengthen the tendon. If the toe is not flexible, your doctor will probably make the same incision to release the tendon, but he or she may also remove some pieces of the bone so that the bone can be straightened. A k-wire is placed in the toe to help hold it straight while it is healing. This is taken out after about four weeks.