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.
Footwear can contribute significantly to the development of hammertoes. Shoes that are too small force your toes into a curled position. Over time, your toe tendons adjust to this positioning, causing your toe or toes to hold a hammered shape. Athletes may be especially susceptible, because of the increased forces on the toes from shoes that are too small or tight. Heel elevation in footwear is also problematic, as it causes your toes to be pushed into the shoe?s toe box. Heel elevation additionally contributes to muscle imbalance. A common example of this is when your Achilles tendon-the tendon at the back of your leg that attaches your calf muscles to your heel bone-is too tight, causing the tendons on the top of your foot that attach to your toes to work too hard and hold your toes in an unnatural, elevated position.
Some people never have troubles with hammer toes. In fact, some people don't even know they have them. They can become uncomfortable, especially while wearing shoes. Many people who develop symptoms with hammer toes will develop corns, blisters and pain on the top of the toe, where it rubs against the shoe or between the toes, where it rubs against the adjacent toe. You can also develop calluses on the balls of the feet, as well as cramping, aching and an overall fatigue in the foot and leg.
Hammertoes are progressive, they don?t go away by themselves and usually they will get worse over time. However, not all cases are alike, some hammertoes progress more rapidly than others. Once your foot and ankle surgeon has evaluated your hammertoes, a treatment plan can be developed that is suited to your needs.
Non Surgical Treatment
If the affected toe is still flexible, you may be able to treat it by taping or splinting the toe to hold it straight. Your family doctor can show you how to do this. You may also try corrective footwear, corn pads and other devices to reduce pain. You may need to do certain exercises to keep your toe joints flexible. For example, you may need to move and stretch your toe gently with your hands. You can also exercise by picking things up with your toes. Small or soft objects, such as marbles or towels, work best. If your hammer toe becomes painful, you may need to apply an ice pack several times a day. This can help relieve the soreness and swelling. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (also called NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (two brand names: Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (one brand name: Aleve), may be helpful. If your pain and swelling are severe, your doctor may need to give you a steroid injection in the toe joint.
For severe hammer toe, you will need an operation to straighten the joint. The surgery often involves cutting or moving tendons and ligaments. Sometimes the bones on each side of the joint need to be connected (fused) together. Most of the time, you will go home on the same day as the surgery. The toe may still be stiff afterward, and it may be shorter. If the condition is treated early, you can often avoid surgery. Treatment will reduce pain and walking difficulty.