Hammer toes is a deformity of the toe in which the toe bends downward at the middle joint, causing it to resemble a hammer. Hammertoes usually begin as mild problems, but over time they can develop into severe cases. Hammertoes are often flexible during the initial stages, and if treatment is administered promptly, symptoms can be managed with non-surgical methods. But if time passes and you do not seek treatment, your hammertoe will become more rigid, and surgical treatment may be required.
Hammer toe most frequently results from wearing poorly fitting shoes that can force the toe into a bent position, such as excessively high heels or shoes that are too short or narrow for the foot. Having the toes bent for long periods of time can cause the muscles in them to shorten, resulting in the hammer toe deformity. This is often found in conjunction with bunions or other foot problem (e.g., a bunion can force the big toe to turn inward and push the other toes). It can also be caused by muscle, nerve, or joint damage resulting from conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, stroke, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, complex regional pain syndrome or diabetes. Hammer toe can also be found in Friedreich's ataxia.
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.
Your doctor is very likely to be able to diagnose your hammertoe simply by examining your foot. Even before that, he or she will probably ask about your family and personal medical history and evaluate your gait as you walk and the types of shoes you wear. You'll be asked about your symptoms, when they started and when they occur. You may also be asked to flex your toe so that your doctor can get an idea of your range of motion. He or she may order x-rays in order to better define your deformity.
Non Surgical Treatment
Padding and Taping. Often this is the first step in a treatment plan. Padding the hammertoe 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. Medication. Anti-inflammatory drugs and cortisone injections can be prescribed to ease acute pain and inflammation caused by the joint deformity. Orthotic Devices. 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 hammertoe deformity.
Bone-mending procedures realign the contracted toe by removing the entire deviated small joints of the toe (again, not at the ball of the foot). This allows for the buckled joint to be positioned flat and the bone ends to mend together. Often surgical hardware (fixation) is necessary to keep the bones steady during healing. Hardware options can involve a buried implant inside the toe, or a temporary wire that is removed at a later date. Medical terminology for this procedure is called a proximal interphalangeal joint arthrodesis (fusion), or a distal interphalangeal joint arthrodesis (fusion), with the former being performed in a high majority of cases.