Hammertoes most commonly affects the second toe on the foot. It causes the middle joint to bend. Hammertoe is most frequently caused by structural problems in the toe or from wearing poor fitting shoes. It is important to diagnose and treat hammertoe early because the condition tends to become worse over time. If left untreated, hammertoe can require surgery.
Poorly fitting shoes and muscle imbalances are the most common causes of hammertoe. When shoes are too narrow or do not accommodate the shape and size of your feet, they often contort the position of your toes. Choosing a shoe that fits is very important when it comes to avoiding foot problems like bunions or hammertoe. Having your toes bent for an extended period of time in a shoe that is too narrow or small forces your toes to adapt to the cramped space. With time, the muscles in your feet become accustomed to holding the flexed position of your toes, making it harder, or even impossible to straighten them.
Well-developed hammertoes are distinctive due to the abnormal bent shape of the toe. However, there are many other common symptoms. Some symptoms may be present before the toe becomes overly bent or fixed in the contracted position. Often, before the toe becomes permanently contracted, there will be pain or irritation over the top of the toe, particularly over the joint. The symptoms are pronounced while wearing shoes due to the top of the toe rubbing against the upper portion of the shoe. Often, there is a significant amount of friction between the toe and the shoe or between the toe and the toes on either side of it. The corns may be soft or hard, depending on their location and age. The affected toe may also appear red with irritated skin. In more severe cases, blisters or open sores may form. Those with diabetes should take extra care if they develop any of these symptoms, as they could lead to further complications.
The earlier a hammertoe is diagnosed, the better the prognosis and treatment options. Your doctor will be able to diagnose your hammertoe with a simple examination of the foot and your footwear. He or she may take an x-ray to check the severity of the condition. You may also be asked about your symptoms, your normal daily activities, and your medical and family history.
Non Surgical Treatment
People with a hammer toe benefit from wearing shoes in which the toe box is made of a flexible material and is wide enough and high enough to provide adequate room for the toes. High-heeled shoes should be avoided, because they tend to force the toes into a narrow, flat toe box. A doctor may recommend an insert (orthotic) for the shoe to help reduce friction and pressure on the hammer toe. Wearing properly fitted shoes may reduce pain and inflammation. It may also prevent ulcers from developing and help existing ulcers heal. However, the hammer toe does not disappear.
If your toe is not bendable, your doctor may recommend surgery. The type of surgery that will be performed will depend on the severity of the condition. You should expect blood and urine studies before the procedure, as well as x-rays of your feet. Your doctor will inject either a local or regional anesthetic. If your toe has some flexibility, the doctor may be able to straighten it by simply making an incision in the toe to release or lengthen the tendon. If the toe is not flexible, your doctor will probably make the same incision to release the tendon, but he or she may also remove some pieces of the bone so that the bone can be straightened. A k-wire is placed in the toe to help hold it straight while it is healing. This is taken out after about four weeks.
Skin creams can help maintain skin softness and pliability. A pumice stone or loofah sponge can help get rid of dead skin. Taking a warm footbath for 10 minutes two or three times a week will keep the feet relaxed and help prevent mild foot pain caused by fatigue. Adding 1/2 cup of Epsom salts increases circulation and adds other benefits. Taking footbaths only when the feet are painful is not as helpful.