A hammertoes occurs from a muscle and ligament imbalance around the toe joint which causes the middle joint of the toe to bend and become stuck in this position. The most common complaint with hammertoes is rubbing and irritation on the top of the bent toe. Toes that may curl rather than buckle, most commonly the baby toe, are also considered hammertoes. It can happen to any toe. Women are more likely to get pain associated with hammertoes than men because of shoe gear. Hammertoes can be a serious problem in people with diabetes or poor circulation. People with these conditions should see a doctor at the first sign of foot trouble.
Hammertoes are most common in women, and a big part of this is poor shoe choices, which are a big factor in the development of many foot problems. Tight toe boxes and high heels are the biggest culprits. Genetics certainly plays a role in some cases of hammertoes, as does trauma, infection, arthritis, and certain neurological and muscle disorders. But most cases of contracted toes are associated with various biomechanical abnormalities in how a patient walks. This causes the muscles and tendons to be used excessively or improperly, which deforms the toes over time.
The symptoms of a hammer toe are usually first noticed when a corn develops on the top of the toe and becomes painful, usually when wearing tight shoes. There may be a bursa under the corn or instead of a corn, depending on the pressure. Most of the symptoms are due to pressure from footwear on the toe. There may be a callus under the metatarsal head at the base of the toe. Initially a hammer toe is usually flexible, but when longstanding it becomes more rigid.
Some questions your doctor may ask of you include, when did you first begin having foot problems? How much pain are your feet or toes causing you? Where is the pain located? What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms? What, if anything, appears to worsen your symptoms? What kind of shoes do you normally wear? Your doctor can diagnose hammertoe or mallet toe by examining your foot. Your doctor may also order X-rays to further evaluate the bones and joints of your feet and toes.
Non Surgical Treatment
Hammer toes usually get progressively worse over time, especially if you avoid seeking care. Not all cases are the same, so it is important to get your podiatrist or foot surgeon to evaluate your condition so that you can get the treatment you need as soon as possible. Your treatment options will vary depending on the severity of your hammer toe. You may not require surgery to treat your hammer toe. Your doctor may suggest one of these less invasive measures. Instead of wearing shoes that are too high or too short, wear comfortable shoes that have plenty of room and are flat or low-heeled. Your doctor can prescribe pads that will prevent your corns or calluses from getting irritated. Avoid over-the-counter medicated pads, as they contain acid that can worsen your condition. An orthotic device can be customized to fit your shoe and foot. It can help control your tendon and muscle imbalance, which in turn may ease your pain. NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen can reduce inflammation. By relieving swelling in your toe joint, you can alleviate your pain. Splints or small straps can be placed on your toe by a foot surgeon to realign your bent toe. Applying ice packs wrapped in cloth on your hammer toe can reduce inflammation and swelling. Gently massaging your toes can assist in alleviating your pain caused by hammer toes. Try exercises that stretch your feet as these can help restore your muscle balance. A simple exercise that can help is to pick up a cloth or small object from the floor by curling your toes. This action will help your feet and toes by stretching them.
Surgical correction is necessary in more severe cases and may consist of removing a bone spur (exostectomy) removing the enlarged bone and straightening the toe (arthroplasty), sometimes with internal fixation using a pin to realign the toe; shortening a long metatarsal bone (osteotomy) fusing the toe joint and then straightening the toe (arthrodesis) or simple tendon lengthening and capsule release in hammertoe milder, flexible hammertoes (tenotomy and capsulotomy). The procedure chosen depends in part on how flexible the hammertoe is.