The smallest four toes of each foot have three bony segments connected by two joints, just as the fingers do. Hammertoes is a deformity in which one or more of the small toes develops a bend at the joint between the first and second segments so that the tip of the toe turns downward, making it looks like a hammer or claw. The second toe is affected most often.
Hereditary and shoe gear are probably the most likely reasons to develop a hammer toe. Tight pointy shoes may cause a hammer toes. High heels also can cause hammer toes. A deformed toe often develops over time, and certain types of feet may be predisposed. Some patients may develop a hammer toe or cross over toe (of the 2nd toe) due to a bunion of the big toe.
Symptoms include sharp pain in the middle of the toe and difficulty straightening the toe. People with hammertoe may also develop blisters, which are fluid-filled pockets of skin, because the bent toe is likely to rub against the inside of a shoe. This increased friction may also lead to calluses, which are areas of thickened skin, and corns, which are hard lumps that may form on or between toes. Symptoms may be minor at first, but they can worsen over time.
The earlier a hammertoe is diagnosed, the better the prognosis and treatment options. Your doctor will be able to diagnose your hammertoe with a simple examination of the foot and your footwear. He or she may take an x-ray to check the severity of the condition. You may also be asked about your symptoms, your normal daily activities, and your medical and family history.
Non Surgical Treatment
Apply a commercial, nonmedicated hammertoe pad around the bony prominence of the hammertoe. This will decrease pressure on the area. Wear a shoe with a deep toe box. If the hammertoe becomes inflamed and painful, apply ice packs several times a day to reduce swelling. Avoid heels more than two inches tall. A loose-fitting pair of shoes can also help protect the foot while reducing pressure on the affected toe, making walking a little easier until a visit to your podiatrist can be arranged. It is important to remember that, while this treatment will make the hammertoe feel better, it does not cure the condition. A trip to the podiatric physician?s office will be necessary to repair the toe to allow for normal foot function. Avoid wearing shoes that are too tight or narrow. Children should have their shoes properly fitted on a regular basis, as their feet can often outgrow their shoes rapidly. See your podiatric physician if pain persists.
Probably the most frequent procedure performed is one called a Post or an Arthroplasty. In this case a small piece of bone is removed from the joint to straighten the toe. The toe is shortened somewhat, but there is still motion within the toe post-operatively. In other cases, an Arthrodesis is performed. This involves fusing the abnormally-contracted joint. The Taylor procedure fuses only the first joint in the toe, whereas the Lambrinudi procedure fuses both joints within the toe. Toes which have had these procedures are usually perfectly straight, but they take longer to heal and don't bend afterwards. A Hibbs procedure is a transfer of the toe's long extensor tendon to the top of the metatarsal bone. The idea of this procedure is to remove the deforming cause of the hammertoes (in this case, extensor substitution), but to preserve the tendon's function in dorsifexing the foot by reattaching it to the metatarsals. Fortunately, the Gotch (or Gotch and Kreuz) procedure--the removal of the base of the toe where it attaches to the foot, is done less frequently than in years past. The problem with this procedure is that it doesn't address the problem at the level of the deformity, and it causes the toe to become destabilized, often resulting in a toe that has contracted up and back onto the top of the foot. You can even have an Implant Arthroplasty procedure, where a small, false joint is inserted into place. There are several other procedures, as well.
Walking barefoot increases the risk for injury and infection. Being on your feet throughout the day can cause them to swell, this is the best time to buy shoes to get a better fit. Do not buy shoes that feel tight. Do not buy shoes that ride up and down your heel as you walk. The ball of your foot should fit into the widest part of the shoe. Remember, the higher the heel the less safe the shoe will be. Avoid shoes with pointed or narrow toes. If the shoes hurt, do not wear them. If you start noticing the beginning signs of hammer toes, you may still be able to prevent the tendons from tightening by soaking your feet every day in warm water, wearing toe friendly shoes, and performing foot exercises such as stretching your toes and ankles. A simple exercise such as placing a small towel on the floor and then picking it up using only your toes can help to restore the flexibility of tendons.