Hammer toes (hammertoe) is a deformity of the second, third, or fourth toes. In this condition, the toe is bent at the middle joint, into an upward position, causing it to resemble a hammer (sometimes decribed as ?curled toes?). Left untreated, hammer toes can become inflexible and require surgery. Toes which take on a curled appearance are hammer toes. Mallet toe is a similar condition, but affects the upper joint of a toe.
Hammer toe results from shoes that don't fit properly or a muscle imbalance, usually in combination with one or more other factors. Muscles work in pairs to straighten and bend the toes. If the toe is bent and held in one position long enough, the muscles tighten and cannot stretch out. Shoes that narrow toward the toe may make your forefoot look smaller. But they also push the smaller toes into a flexed (bent) position. The toes rub against the shoe, leading to the formation of corns and calluses, which further aggravate the condition. A higher heel forces the foot down and squishes the toes against the shoe, increasing the pressure and the bend in the toe. Eventually, the toe muscles become unable to straighten the toe, even when there is no confining shoe.
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
In the earlier stages of hammer toe, when the toes can still be manually straightened, then conservative treatment is appropriate. This means wearing shoes which are a half size bigger than normal and which are not narrow around the toes. Exercises to stretch the toes out and strengthen the muscles under the foot which balances the tightness of the top tendons are important. Padding or corn plasters can be used to ease the discomfort of any associated corns and calluses.
There are generally two methods surgeons use to correct hammer toes, they are joint resection (arthroplasty) or bone mending (fusion), and the location where this is performed on the toe depends on where the toe is buckled. Its important to recognize that most of the surgical work involved the joints of the toe, not the joint of the ball of the foot. Sometimes a toe relocation procedure is needed when the joint of the ball of the foot is malaligned (subluxed or dislocated).