Hammer toes is a deformity of the toe in which the toe bends downward at the middle joint, causing it to resemble a hammer. Hammertoes usually begin as mild problems, but over time they can develop into severe cases. Hammertoes are often flexible during the initial stages, and if treatment is administered promptly, symptoms can be managed with non-surgical methods. But if time passes and you do not seek treatment, your hammertoe will become more rigid, and surgical treatment may be required.
But what causes the imbalance of the tendons and muscles in the first place so that they begin to pull and bend the joint? A bad fitting shoe could be the cause but it usually isn?t the primary cause. Many people are genetically predisposed to hammertoe, and the condition begins to progress more quickly when they wear shoes that fit poorly, for example pointy toes, high heels, or shoes that are too short. Hammertoe may also be caused by damage to the joint as a result of trauma.
hammertoe class='alignleft' style='float:left;margin-right:10px;' src='http://kayleemay.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Dfoot-2.jpg' width='252' alt='Hammer Toe'/>Symptoms
The symptoms of hammertoe are progressive, meaning that they get worse over time. Hammertoe causes the middle joint on the second, third, fourth, or fifth toes to bend. The affected toe may be painful or irritated, especially when you wear shoes. Areas of thickened skin (corns) may develop between, on top of, or at the end of your toes. Thickened skin (calluses) may also appear on the bottom of your toe or the ball of your foot. It may be difficult to find a pair of shoes that is comfortable to wear.
First push up on the bottom of the metatarsal head associated with the affected toe and see if the toe straightens out. If it does, then an orthotic could correct the problem, usually with a metatarsal pad. If the toe does not straighten out when the metatarsal head is pushed up, then that indicates that contracture in the capsule and ligaments (capsule contracts because the joint was in the wrong position for too long) of the MTP joint has set in and surgery is required. Orthotics are generally required post-surgically.
Non Surgical Treatment
In many cases, conservative treatment consisting of physical therapy and new shoes with soft, spacious toe boxes is enough to resolve the condition, while in more severe or longstanding cases podiatric surgery may be necessary to correct the deformity. The patient's doctor may also prescribe some toe exercises that can be done at home to stretch and strengthen the muscles. For example, the individual can gently stretch the toes manually, or use the toes to pick things up off the floor. While watching television or reading, one can put a towel flat under the feet and use the toes to crumple it. The doctor can also prescribe a brace that pushes down on the toes to force them to stretch out their muscles.
In some cases, usually when the hammertoe has become more rigid and painful, or when an open sore has developed, surgery is needed. Often patients with hammertoe have bunions or other foot deformities corrected at the same time. In selecting the procedure or combination of procedures for your particular case, the foot and ankle surgeon will take into consideration the extent of your deformity, the number of toes involved, your age, your activity level, and other factors. The length of the recovery period will vary, depending on the procedure or procedures performed.
As long as hammertoe causes no pain or any change in your walking or running gait, it isn?t harmful and doesn't require treatment. The key to prevention is to wear shoes that fit you properly and provide plenty of room for your toes.