Hammertoe is a Z-shaped deformity caused by dorsal subluxation at the metatarsophalangeal joint. Diagnosis is clinical. Treatment is modification of footwear and/or orthotics. The usual cause is misalignment of the joint surfaces due to a genetic predisposition toward aberrant foot biomechanics and tendon contractures. RA and neurologic disorders such as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease are other causes.
Hammertoes are more commonly seen in women than men, due to the shoe styles women frequently wear: shoes with tight toe boxes and high heels. Genetics plays a role in some cases of hammertoes, as does trauma, infection, arthritis, and certain neurological and muscle disorders. But most cases of contracted toes are associated with various biomechanical abnormalities of the feet, such as flat feet and feet with abnormally high arches. These biomechanical abnormalities cause the muscles and tendons to be used excessively or improperly, which deforms the toes over time.
Hammer toes can cause problems with walking and lead to other foot problems, such as blisters, calluses, and sores. Pain is caused by constant friction over the top of the toe?s main joint. It may be difficult to fit into some shoe gear due to the extra space required for the deformed toe. In many cases there will be pain on the ball of the foot over the metatarsals along with callus formation. This is due to the toes not functioning properly, failing to properly touch the ground during the gait cycle. The ball of the foot then takes the brunt of the ground forces, which causes chronic pain.
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
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.
Sometimes when the joints are removed the two bones become one as they are fused in a straightened position. Many times one toe will be longer than another and a piece of bone is removed to bring the toes in a more normal length in relation to each other. Sometimes tendons will be lengthened, or soft tissue around the joints will be cut or rebalanced to fix the deformity. Angular corrections may also be needed. The surgeon may place fixation in your foot as it heals which may include a pin, or wires.
Preventing foot problems, including hammertoes, is often a matter of wearing the right shoes and taking care of your feet. Check your feet regularly for problems. This is especially true if you have diabetes or any other medical condition that causes poor circulation or numbness in your toes. If you do, check feet daily so that problems can be caught early on.