Hammer toes is a contracture (bending) of one or both joints of the second, third, fourth, or fifth (little) toes. This abnormal bending can put pressure on the toe when wearing shoes, causing problems to develop. Hammertoes usually start out as mild deformities and get progressively worse over time. In the earlier stages, hammer toes are flexible and the symptoms can often be managed with noninvasive measures. But if left untreated, hammer toes can become more rigid and will not respond to non-surgical treatment. Because of the progressive nature of hammertoes, they should receive early attention. Hammertoes never get better without some kind of intervention.
The most common cause of hammertoe is a muscle/tendon imbalance. This imbalance, which leads to a bending of the toe, results from mechanical (structural) changes in the foot that occur over time in some people. Hammertoes may be aggravated by shoes that don?t fit properly. A hammertoe may result if a toe is too long and is forced into a cramped position when a tight shoe is worn. Occasionally, hammertoe is the result of an earlier trauma to the toe. In some people, hammertoes are inherited.
Common reasons patients seek treatment for toe problems are toe pain on the knuckle. Thick toe calluses. Interference with walking/activities. Difficulty fitting shoes. Worsening toe deformity. Pain at the ball of the foot. Unsightly appearance. Toe deformities (contractures) come in varying degrees of severity, from slight to severe. The can be present in conjunction with a bunion, and develop onto a severe disfiguring foot deformity. Advanced cases, the toe can dislocate on top of the foot. Depending on your overall health, symptoms and severity of the hammer toe, the condition may be treated conservatively and/or with surgery.
Although hammertoes are readily apparent, to arrive at a diagnosis the foot and ankle surgeon will obtain a thorough history of your symptoms and examine your foot. During the physical examination, the doctor may attempt to reproduce your symptoms by manipulating your foot and will study the contractures of the toes. In addition, the foot and ankle surgeon may take x-rays to determine the degree of the deformities and assess any changes that may have occurred.
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 hammertoes 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.
In advanced cases in which the toe has become stiff and permanently bent, the toe can be straightened with surgery. One type of surgery involves removing a small section of the toe bone to allow the toe to lie flat. Surgery for hammertoe usually is classified as a cosmetic procedure. Cosmetic foot surgeries sometimes result in complications such as pain or numbness, so it's better to treat the problem with a shoe that fits properly.