A hammertoe is a toe that tends to remain bent at the middle joint in a claw-like position. There are 2 types of hammer toe. Flexible hammer toe, can be straightened by hand. Rigid hammer toe, cannot be pulled straight and can be extremely painful. The position of the toe can also lead to Hammer toe corns or calluses. These may also be painful. Hammer toe may be present at birth or develop later in life due to tendons that have tightened, causing the toe's joints to curl downward. Occasionally, all toes may be bent. This may be due to problems with the peripheral nerves or the spinal cord.
The APMA says that hammertoe can result from a muscle imbalance in the foot that puts undue pressure on the joints, ultimately causing deformity. Inherited factors can contribute to the likelihood of developing hammertoe. Arthritis, stroke or nerve damage from diabetes or toe injuries such as jamming or breaking a toe can affect muscle balance in the foot, leading to hammertoe. The Mayo Clinic says that wearing improper shoes often causes hammertoe. Shoes that squeeze the toes, such as those with a tight toe box or with heels higher than two inches, can put too much pressure on the toe joints.
The symptoms of a hammer toe are usually first noticed when a corn develops on the top of the toe and becomes painful, usually when wearing tight shoes. There may be a bursa under the corn or instead of a corn, depending on the pressure. Most of the symptoms are due to pressure from footwear on the toe. There may be a callus under the metatarsal head at the base of the toe. Initially a hammer toe is usually flexible, but when longstanding it becomes more rigid.
Your healthcare provider will examine your foot, checking for redness, swelling, corns, and calluses. Your provider will also measure the flexibility of your toes and test how much feeling you have in your toes. You may have blood tests to check for arthritis, diabetes, and infection.
Non Surgical Treatment
Often padding and taping are the first steps in a treatment plan. Padding the hammer toe prominence minimizes pain and allows the patient to continue a normal, active life. Taping may change the imbalance around the toes and thus relieve the stress and pain. Anti-inflammatory drugs and cortisone injections can be prescribed to ease acute pain and inflammation caused by the joint deformity. Custom shoe inserts made by your podiatrist may be useful in controlling foot function. An orthotic device may reduce symptoms and prevent the worsening of the hammer toe deformity.
Several surgical procedures are available to the podiatric physician. For less severe deformities, the surgery will remove the bony prominence and restore normal alignment of the toe joint, thus relieving pain. Severe hammertoes, which are not fully reducible, may require more complex surgical procedures. Recuperation takes time, and some swelling and discomfort are common for several weeks following surgery. Any pain, however, is easily managed with medications prescribed by your podiatric physician.