Patients and doctors often refer to all forms of toe abnormalities as a hammertoe. There are in fact four main forms of toe abnormalities, hammer toes, claw toes, mallet toes and trigger toes. A hammertoe can be best described as an abnormal contraction or "buckling" of a toe. This occurs due to a partial or complete dislocation of one of the joints that form the toe. As the toe continues to be deformed, it will press up against the shoe and may cause corns.
The muscles of each toe work in pairs. When the toe muscles get out of balance, a hammer toe can form. Muscle imbalance puts a lot of pressure on the toe's tendons and joints. This pressure forces the toe into a hammerhead shape. How do the toe muscles get out of balance? There are three main reasons. Your genes, you may have inherited a tendency to develop hammer toes because your foot is slightly unstable - such as a flat foot. But high-arched feet can also get hammer toes. Arthritis. Injury to the toe: ill-fitting shoes are the main culprits of this cause. If shoes are too tight, too short, or too pointy, they push the toes out of balance. Pointy, high-heeled shoes put particularly severe pressure on the toes.
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 hammertoes 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
Your podiatrist may recommend conservative treatment techniques for your hammertoes based on your foot structure, which will likely involve removing any thick, painful skin, padding your painful area, and recommending for you shoes that give your curled toes adequate room. Conservative care strategies for this health purpose may also involve the use of Correct Toes, our toe straightening and toe spacing device.
If this fails or if treatment is not sought until the toes are permanently misaligned, then surgery may be required. Surgery may involve either cutting the tendon or fusing the joint. Congenital conditions should be treated in early childhood with manipulations and splinting.
Prevention of a hammer toe can be difficult as symptoms do not usually start until the problem is well established. Wearing shoes that have extra room in the toes may help the problem or slow down its development.