A hammertoes is a deformity of the middle joint of a toe, producing a clenched, clawlike appearance in the affected digit. The tendons in the toe become abnormally contracted, causing the toe to bend downward, which, in turn, forces the joint to protrude upward. A mallet toe is a deformity in which the end joint of a toe becomes bent downward, so that the toe curls underneath itself. In either case the affected joints are stiff, and often the toe cannot be straightened out. Constant rubbing against shoes may furthermore cause a painful corn (a round Hammer toes patch of rough, thickened, calloused skin) to develop over the joint or at the tip of the affected toe. Hammer and mallet toes may occur in any toe, although the second toe is the most common site. These deformities are often painful and limit the toe?s range of motion-sometimes requiring surgery.
Medical problems, such as stroke or diabetes that affect the nerves, may also lead to hammertoe. For example, diabetes can result in poor circulation, especially in the feet. As a result, the person may not feel that their toes are bent into unnatural positions. The likelihood of developing hammertoe increases with age and may be affected by gender (more common in women) and toe length; for example, when the second toe is longer than the big toe, hammertoe is more likely to occur. Hammertoe may also be present at birth. Genetics may factor in to developing hammertoe, particularly if the foot is flat or has a high arch, resulting in instability.
The symptoms of hammertoe are progressive, meaning that they get worse over time. Hammertoe causes the middle joint on the second, third, fourth, or fifth toes to bend. The affected toe may be painful or irritated, especially when you wear shoes. Areas of thickened skin (corns) may develop between, on top of, or at the end of your toes. Thickened skin (calluses) may also appear on the bottom of your toe or the ball of your foot. It may be difficult to find a pair of shoes that is comfortable to wear.
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.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment options for a hammertoe are based on the severity of the condition. A hammertoe caused by inappropriate footwear can be corrected by wearing properly fitting shoes. If a high arch caused the condition, wearing toe pads or insoles in your shoes can help. These pads work by shifting your toe?s position, which relieves pain and corrects the appearance of your toe.
Surgery is used when other types of treatment fail to relieve symptoms or for advanced cases of hammertoe. There are several types of surgeries to treat hammertoe. A small piece of bone may be removed from the joint (arthroplasty). The toe joint may be fused to straighten it (arthrodesis). Surgical hardware, such as a pin, may be used to hold the bones in place while they heal. Other types of surgery involve removing skin (wedging) or correcting muscles and tendons to balance the joint.
The best first step you can take is to evaluate your shoe choices. Ditch any shoes that aren?t serving your feet well. Shoes that crowd the front of your foot, especially around your toes, aggravate the existing condition and can also cause the condition to develop. If you suspect the development of hammertoe, you may also try using protective pads to prevent irritation and the development of corns. Custom orthotics to correct muscle imbalances in your feet may also help prevent hammertoe.