Hammertoe is a condition in which the toes of your feet become contracted into an upside-down “V” shape, causing pain, pressure and, often, corns and calluses. Hammer toe can develop on any of the toes, but generally affects the middle three toes, most often the second toe. The bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons of your feet normally are well-balanced to distribute your body’s weight while standing, walking and running. When the first and second joints of your toes experience the prolonged stress that develops when the muscles that control them fail to work together properly, the pressure on the tendons that support them can lead to the curling or contraction known as hammertoe.
A person may be born with hammer toe or may develop it from wearing short, narrow shoes. Hammer toe can occur in children who outgrow shoes rapidly. Sometimes hammer toe is genetic and is caused by a nerve disorder in the foot. High heeled shoes are can also cause hammer toe. The reason for this is that the toes are not only bunched up, but the weight of the body is pushing them forward even further.
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.
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
Inserts in your shoes can be used to help relieve pressure on the toes from the deformity. Splints/Straps. These can be used to help re-align and stretch your toes and correct the muscle imbalance and tendon shortening. One of the most common types are toe stretchers like the yogatoe. Chiropody. A chiropodist can remove calluses or corns, areas of hard skin that have formed to make the foot more comfortable.Steroid injections can help to reduce pain and inflammation.
Sometimes surgery can not be avoided. If needed, the surgery chosen is decided by whether we are dealing with a flexible or rigid hammer toe. If the surgery is on a flexible hammer toe, it is performed on soft tissue structures like the tendon and or capsule of the flexor hammer toe. Rigid hammer toes need bone surgeries hammertoes into the joint of the toe to repair it. This bone surgery is called an arthroplasty.
If you notice the beginning signs of hammertoe, you may be able to prevent the tendons from tightening by wearing toe-friendly shoes, by flattening your toes regularly, and by soaking your feet every day in warm water, then stretching your toes and ankles by pointing your toes. Foot exercises also can help to maintain or restore the flexibility of the tendons. One simple exercise is to place a small towel on the floor and then pick it up using only your toes. You also can grasp at carpet with your toes or curl your toes up and down repeatedly.