A Hammer toes is a contracture of the toes as a result of a muscle imbalance between the tendons on the top and the tendons on the bottom of the toe. They can be flexible or rigid in nature. When they are rigid, it is not possible to straighten the toe out by manipulating it. Frequently, they develop corns on the top of the toe as a result of rubbing on the shoe. They may also cause a bothersome callous on the ball of the foot. This occurs as a result of the toe pressing downward on the bone behind the toe. This area then becomes prominent and the pressure of the bone against the ground causes a callous to form.
Though hammer toes are principally hereditary, several other factors can contribute to the deformity. Most prevalent is an imbalance of the muscles and tendons that control the motion of the toe. When the tendon that pulls the toe upward is not as strong as the one that pulls it downward there is a disparity of power. This forces the toe to buckle and gradually become deformed. If the it persists, the toe can become rigid and harder to correct.
The most obvious symptom of hammertoe is the bent, hammer-like or claw-like appearance of one or more of your toes. Typically, the proximal joint of a toe will be bending upward and the distal joint will be bending downward. In some cases, both joints may bend downward, causing the toes to curl under the foot. In the variation of mallet toe, only the distal joint bends downward. Other symptoms may include Pain and stiffness during movement of the toe, Painful corns on the tops of the toe or toes from rubbing against the top of the shoe's toe box, Painful calluses on the bottoms of the toe or toes, Pain on the bottom of the ball of the foot, Redness and swelling at the joints. If you have any of these symptoms, especially the hammer shape, pain or stiffness in a toe or toes, you should consider consulting your physician. Even if you're not significantly bothered by some of these symptoms, the severity of a hammertoe can become worse over time and should be treated as soon as possible. Up to a point hammertoes can be treated without surgery and should be taken care of before they pass that point. After that, surgery may be the only solution.
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
The treatment options vary with the type and severity of each hammertoe, although identifying the deformity early in its development is important to avoid surgery. Podiatric medical attention should be sought at the first indication of pain and discomfort because, if left untreated, hammertoes tend to become rigid, making a nonsurgical treatment less of an option. Your podiatric physician will examine and X-ray the affected area and recommend a treatment plan specific to your condition.
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.