A Hammer Toe is the result of deformed toe joints, tight tendons that attach to the toe, and misaligned toe bones. The usual appearance of a hammertoe is a toe bent upward at the middle toe joint, so that the top of this joint rubs against the top of the shoe. The remainder of the toe is bent downward so that, instead of the entire toe bearing weight, only the tip of the toe bears weight. Pain can occur on the top of the toe, the tip of the toe, or in both areas.
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.
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.
First push up on the bottom of the metatarsal head associated with the affected toe and see if the toe straightens out. If it does, then an orthotic could correct the problem, usually with a metatarsal pad. If the toe does not straighten out when the metatarsal head is pushed up, then that indicates that contracture in the capsule and ligaments (capsule contracts because the joint was in the wrong position for too long) of the MTP joint has set in and surgery is required. Orthotics are generally required post-surgically.
Non Surgical Treatment
There are many non-surgical treatments to help relieve symptoms of hammertoe. The first step for many people is wearing the right size and type of shoe. Low-heeled shoes with a boxy or roomy toe area are helpful. Cushioned insoles, customized orthopedic inserts, and pads can provided relief as well. Splints or straps may be used to help correct toe position. Your doctor may show you toe stretches and exercises to perform. Your doctor can safely remove corns and calluses. You should not try to remove them at home.
Surgery involves removing a small section of bone from the affected joint through a procedure called arthroplasty. Arthrodesis may also be performed to treat hammertoes, which involves fusing together one of the joints in the toe in order to keep it straight. This procedure requires the use of a metal pin to hold the toe in position while it heals.
Although the feet naturally change over time, and abnormalities like hammertoes may be hereditary for some patients, steps may be taken to prevent their development in the first place. Just as better fitting shoes are a treatment, they are also a preventative measure for hammertoes. In addition, your podiatrist may suggest orthotics to improve the biomechanics of your feet in an effort to prevent the development of hammertoes or other abnormalities. Calf stretching and other exercises may also be used to reverse or treat muscle imbalances that could eventually lead to hammertoe development.