A Hammer Toe occurs when the joint of the toes curl down. The reason they curl abnormally is due to a muscle imbalance which results in the tendons becoming unnaturally tight. They are due to Heredity, improper shoes, and Arthritis. There are two types of hammer toes, flexible or rigid. These classification are based on the mobility of the toe joints. A flexible hammer toe is one with a flexible toe joint that allows it to be straightend with your finger. In time a flexible joint may turn into a rigid hammer toe. Normally flexible hammer toes are much less painful than rigid hammer toes. A rigid hammer toe is one with a rigid toe joint, one that is not moveable with your finger. These rigid toe joints can be very painful and limit the ability to move.
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.
The symptoms of hammertoe include a curling toe, pain or discomfort in the toes and ball of the foot or the front of the leg, especially when toes are stretched downward. Thickening of the skin above or below the affected toe with the formation of corns or calluses. Difficulty finding shoes that fit well. In its early stages, hammertoe is not obvious. Frequently, hammertoe does not cause any symptoms except for the claw-like toe shape.
The exam may reveal a toe in which the near bone of the toe (proximal phalanx) is angled upward and the middle bone of the toe points in the opposite direction (plantar flexed). Toes may appear crooked or rotated. The involved joint may be painful when moved, or stiff. There may be areas of thickened skin (corns or calluses) on top of or between the toes, a callus may also be observed at the tip of the affected toe beneath the toenail. An attempt to passively correct the deformity will help elucidate the best treatment option as the examiner determines whether the toe is still flexible or not. It is advisable to assess palpable pulses, since their presence is associated with a good prognosis for healing after surgery. X-rays will demonstrate the contractures of the involved joints, as well as possible arthritic changes and bone enlargements (exostoses, spurs). X-rays of the involved foot are usually performed in a weight-bearing position.
Non Surgical Treatment
In the early stages, the deformities from mallet toe, claw toe and hammertoe can be corrected. But if treatment is delayed too long, permanent stiffness can ensue which can only be corrected by surgery. The most effective treatment options are good fitting footwear. Shoes with a wide toebox will be more comfortable and will reduce the tension on the muscles and friction on the toes. Avoid high heels as they push your feet forwards to the front of the shoes. This increases the pressure on the toes, forcing them to bend more than usual. Shoes should ideally be half an inch longer than your longest toe. Exercises to strengthen and stretch the muscles can be really helpful. Simple things like trying to pick marbles up with your feet or scrunching up a towel underneath your foot can work well.
Sometimes, if the deformity is severe enough or surgical modification is needed, the toe bones may be fused so that the toe does not bend. Buried wires are used to allow for the fusion to heal, and they remain in place after healing. Your skin is closed with fine sutures, which are typically removed seven to ten days after surgery. A dressing is used to help keep your toes in their new position. Dressings should not get wet or be removed. After surgery, your doctor may prescribe pain relievers, typically for the initial four to seven days. Most people heal completely within one month of surgery, with few complications, if any. Crutches or a cane may be needed to help you keep weight off your affected foot, depending on the procedure. Occasionally, patients receive a special post-op shoe or a walking boot that is to be worn during the healing process. Most people are able to shower normally after surgery, but must protect the dressing from getting wet. Many patients are allowed to resume driving within one week after the procedure, but care needs to be taken.