A Hammer toe is a deformity of the second, third or fourth toes. In this condition, the toe is bent at the middle joint, so that it resembles a hammer. Initially, hammer toes are flexible and can be corrected with simple measures but, if left untreated, they can become fixed and require surgery. People with hammer toe may have corns or calluses on the top of the middle joint of the toe or on the tip of the toe. They may also feel pain in their toes or feet and have difficulty finding comfortable shoes.
Your toe contains two joints that allow it to bend at the middle and bottom. A hammertoe occurs when the middle joint becomes dislocated. Common causes of this joint dislocation include a toe injury, arthritis, a high foot arch, wearing shoes that don?t fit properly, tightened ligaments or tendons in the foot, pressure from a bunion (when your big toe points inward toward your second toe) Spinal cord or peripheral nerve damage may cause all of your toes to curl downward.
If the toes remain in the hammertoe position for long periods, the tendons on the top of the foot will tighten over time because they are not stretched to their full length. Eventually, the tendons shorten enough that the toe stays bent, even when shoes are not being worn. The symptoms of hammertoe include a curling toe, pain or discomfort in the toes and ball of the foot or the front of the leg, especially when toes are stretched downward, thickening of the skin above or below the affected toe with the formation of corns or calluses, difficulty finding shoes that fit well. In its early stages, hammertoe is not obvious. Frequently, hammertoe does not cause any symptoms except for the claw-like toe shape.
The treatment options vary with the type and severity of each hammer toe, although identifying the deformity early in its development is important to avoid surgery. Your podiatric physician will examine hammertoe and X-ray the affected area and recommend a treatment plan specific to your condition.
Non Surgical Treatment
Wear sensible shoes. If you don?t want to have surgery to fix your hammertoe, use non-medicated padding along with proper shoes made with a wider and deeper toe box to accommodate your foot?s shape. Ensuring your shoes have a good arch support can slow the progression of the condition as well. Use a pumice stone. The corn or callus that forms on top of the hammertoe can cause discomfort when you wear shoes. Treat the corn by using a file or pumice stone to reduce its size after a warm bath, then apply emollients to keep the area softened and pliable. Use silicone or moleskin padding on top of the area when wearing shoes. Do foot exercises. Theoretically, exercises like extending, then curling the toes, splaying the toes, and moving the toes individually may help prevent the digital contracture that causes hammertoe. Try these suggestions and see what works best for you.
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 into the joint of the toe to repair it. This bone surgery is called an arthroplasty.
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.