Hammertoe is caused when the middle joint (PIP) bends down towards the floor (flexion). To compensate, the joints above and below (MTP, DIP) bend up (hyperextend). The result is that the middle part of the toe lifts up. Hammertoe is the most common deformity of the lesser toes (i.e. not the big toe). It tends to only affect one toe, most commonly the second.
Hammer toe usually affects the second toe. However, it may also affect the other toes. The toe moves into a claw-like position. The most common cause of hammer toe is wearing short, narrow shoes that are too tight. The toe is forced into a bent position. Muscles and tendons in the toe tighten and become shorter. Hammer toe is more likely to occur in women who wear shoes that do not fit well or have high heels and children who keep wearing shoes they have outgrown. The condition may be present at birth (congenital) or develop over time. In rare cases, all of the toes are affected. This may be caused by a problem with the nerves or spinal cord.
Patients with hammer toe(s) may develop pain on the top of the toe(s), tip of the toe, and/or on the ball of the foot. Excessive pressure from shoes may result in the formation of a hardened portion of skin (corn or callus) on the knuckle and/or ball of the foot. Some people may not recognize that they have a hammer toe, rather they identity the excess skin build-up of a corn.The toe(s) may become irritated, red, warm, and/or swollen. The pain may be dull and mild or severe and sharp. Pain is often made worse by shoes, especially shoes that crowd the toes. While some hammer toes may result in significant pain, others may not be painful at all. Painful toes can prevent you from wearing stylish shoes.
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
Early on, when a hammertoe first starts and is still flexible, here are some ways it might be treated. Your healthcare provider may splint or tape the toe into the correct, normal position. You can use your fingers to stretch your toes and toe joints toward a more normal position. Exercise your toes by trying to pick up marbles with them or by wadding up a towel on the floor with your toes. Padding may be used to change where your weight falls when you walk on the foot.
The technique the surgeon applies during the surgery depends on how much flexibility the person's affected toes still retain. If some flexibility has still been preserved in their affected toes, the hammer toes might be corrected through making a small incision into the toe so the surgeon can manipulate the tendon that is forcing the person's toes into a curved position. If, however, the person's toes have become completely rigid, the surgeon might have to do more than re-aligning the person's tendons. Some pieces of bone may have to be removed so the person's toe has the ability to straighten out. If this is the case, some pins are attached onto the person's foot afterwards to fix their bones into place while the injured tissue heals.