Hammertoe 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
Symptoms hammertoe can cause:
- Hammer-like or claw-like appearance of the toe
- Pain when walking or moving the foot
- Difficulty moving the toe
- Corns may form on top of the toe
- Callus may form on the sole of the foot
Hammer toe results from shoes that don’t fit properly or a muscle imbalance, usually in combination with one or more other factors. Muscles work in pairs to straighten and bend the toes. If the toe is bent and held in one position long enough, the muscles tighten and cannot stretch out.
Shoes that narrow toward the toe may make your forefoot look smaller. But they also push the smaller toes into a flexed (bent) position. The toes rub against the shoe, leading to the formation of corns and calluses, which further aggravate the condition. A higher heel forces the foot down and squishes the toes against the shoe, increasing the pressure and the bend in the toe. Eventually, the toe muscles become unable to straighten the toe, even when there is no confining shoe.
- Flat feet, less of an arch disturbs the foot complex and ligaments and tendons are pulled in abnormal directions. The end result is very often, a buckling of the digit.
- Injury or trauma in which the toe is jammed or broken
- Diseases that affect the nerves and muscles, such as arthritis
- Abnormal foot mechanics due to nerve or muscle damage, causing an imbalance of the flexor and extensor tendons of the toe.
If the condition is left untreated and the toe becomes fixed, the only option is surgery where the surgeon will cut tendons and remodel foot muscles. It is a complex surgery, which is not guaranteed results.
Corns on top of the toes can become infected and cause secondary problems to the deformity. People who are immunosuppressed such as diabetics and rheumatoid patients especially can run risks of infections.
Conservative treatments is the best option if caught in early stages.
- Custom made shoe inserts (orthotics) will help redistribute weight and ease the position of the toe.
- Footwear with a wide and deep toe box
- Stretching and strengthening of muscles