A hammer toe can be defined as a condition that causes your toe to bend downward instead of pointing forward. While it can occur on any toe on your foot, it usually affects the second or third toe. If your baby toe curls instead of buckling, it is also considered a hammer toe. There are two types of hammer toes. If your toes still can move around at the joint, then it is considered a flexible hammer toe. It is a milder form of the condition and there are more treatment options. The other type is called a rigid Hammer Toe, which occurs when the tendons in your toe become so rigid that they push your toe joint out of alignment, and it cannot move at all. Typically, you will need surgery to fix it.
Flat feet can result in hammertoes, this is due to poor mechanics off the foot. High arched feet can also result in buckling toes. A major cause is in hereditary, all the toe conditions mentioned could be acquired due in hereditary factors. Bunions are a major cause of hammertoes. Claw toes are usually the result of a shoe that is too short. For many people, the second toe is actually longer than the great toe, and if shoes are sized to fit the great toe, the second (and maybe even the third toe) will have to bend to fit into the shoe. Shoes that are pointed make matters even worse. Combine pointed shoes with high heels, the foot is under similar pressure as if it was constantly being pushed downhill into a wall. Rheumatoid arthritis can also lead to bunions, which in turn can lead to hammer toes.
If the toes remain in the hammertoe position for long periods, the tendons on the top of the foot will tighten over time because they are not stretched to their full length. Eventually, the tendons shorten enough that the toe stays bent, even when shoes are not being worn. 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.
Most health care professionals can diagnose hammertoe simply by examining your toes and feet. X-rays of the feet are not needed to diagnose hammertoe, but they may be useful to look for signs of some types of arthritis (such as rheumatoid arthritis) or other disorders that can cause hammertoe. If the deformed toe is very painful, your doctor may recommend that you have a fluid sample withdrawn from the joint with a needle so the fluid can be checked for signs of infection or gout (arthritis from crystal deposits).
Non Surgical Treatment
Early on, when a hammertoe first starts and is still flexible, here are some ways it might be treated. Your healthcare provider may splint or tape the toe into the correct, normal position. You can use your fingers to stretch your toes and toe joints toward a more normal position. Exercise your toes by trying to pick up marbles with them or by wadding up a towel on the floor with your toes. Padding may be used to change where your weight falls when you walk on the foot.
Bone-mending procedures realign the contracted toe by removing the entire deviated small joints of the toe (again, not at the ball of the foot). This allows for the buckled joint to be positioned flat and the bone ends to mend together. Often surgical hardware (fixation) is necessary to keep the bones steady during healing. Hardware options can involve a buried implant inside the toe, or a temporary wire that is removed at a later date. Medical terminology for this procedure is called a proximal interphalangeal joint arthrodesis (fusion), or a distal interphalangeal joint arthrodesis (fusion), with the former being performed in a high majority of cases.