Uneven muscle tension results in the distortion of one or several of the small toes. (Hammertoe) Pressure points develop at the raised middle joint as well as at the tip of the toe and underneath the metatarsal head. In the beginning, when the misalignment can still be corrected, it often suffices to lengthen the tendon and to cut a notch into the capsule. In a contracted misalignment, part of the middle joint is removed to form a replacement joint. Modern surgical techniques preserve the metatarsophalangeal joint (Weil or Helal osteotomies).
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.
The symptoms of a hammer toe include the following. Pain at the top of the bent toe upon pressure from footwear. Formation of corns on the top of the joint. Redness and swelling at the joint contracture. Restricted or painful motion of the toe joint. Pain in the ball of the foot at the base of the affected toe.
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
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.
If conservative treatments fail and your symptoms persist, the doctor may recommend a surgical option to straighten the toe. The procedures used vary greatly, depending upon the reasons for the hammertoe. There are a number of different operations to correct hammertoes, the most common ones involve Soft tissue corrections such as tendon transfers, tendon lengthening, and joint capsule repairs. Digital arthroplasty involves removal of bone from the bent joint to allow the toe to straighten. The temporary use of pins or K-wires may be necessary to keep the toe straight during the healing period. Joint implants are sometimes used to allow for a better range of motion in the toe following surgery. Digital arthrodesis involves the removal of bone from the bent joint and fusing the toe in a straight position. If the corn is due to a bone spur, the most common procedure used is an exostectomy, in which surgically removing it or filing it down removes the bone spur. Because of the possible complications involved with any surgery, one should be sure to understand the risks that may be involved with surgery to correct hammertoes and remove bone spurs.