A hammertoe 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.
Hammertoes are most common in women, and a big part of this is poor shoe choices, which are a big factor in the development of many foot problems. Tight toe boxes and high heels are the biggest culprits. Genetics certainly 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 in how a patient walks. This causes the muscles and tendons to be used excessively or improperly, which deforms the toes over time.
The most obvious sign of hammertoes are bent toes, other symptoms may include pain and stiffness during movement of the toe. Painful corns on the tops of the toe or toes from rubbing against the top of the shoe’s toe box. Painful calluses on the bottoms of the toe or toes. Pain on the bottom of the ball of the foot. Redness and swelling at the joints.
Your healthcare provider will examine your foot, checking for redness, swelling, corns, and calluses. Your provider will also measure the flexibility of your toes and test how much feeling you have in your toes. You may have blood tests to check for arthritis, diabetes, and infection.
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 surgery can not be avoided. If needed, the surgery chosen is decided by whether we are dealing with a flexible or rigid hammer toe. If the surgery is on a hammertoes flexible hammer toe, it is performed on soft tissue structures like the tendon and or capsule of the flexor hammer toe. Rigid hammer toes need bone surgeries into the joint of the toe to repair it. This bone surgery is called an arthroplasty.
The number-one hammertoe prevention tip is to wear properly fitting shoes. If your shoes feel too snug, go to your local shoe store and have the length and width of your feet measured. If you wear high heels, keep the heel height to 2 inches or less. Wearing shoes with high heels increases the pressure on your toes and causes them to bend. It can also cause the formation of corns and a high arch.