When there?s an imbalance in the muscle and ligament surrounding a toe joint, the effect is a bend in the middle joint of the toe, which causes the whole toe to bend upward. Because the toe is bent in an unnatural way, it?s common for the toe to become irritated and even develop corns. A toe that curls under rather than bends upward is also considered a Hammer 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.
The most obvious symptom of hammertoe is the bent, hammer-like or claw-like appearance of one or more of your toes. Typically, the proximal joint of a toe will be bending upward and the distal joint will be bending downward. In some cases, both joints may bend downward, causing the toes to curl under the foot. In the variation of mallet toe, only the distal joint bends downward. 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. If you have any of these symptoms, especially the hammer shape, pain or stiffness in a toe or toes, you should consider consulting your physician. Even if you're not significantly bothered by some of these symptoms, the severity of a hammertoe can become worse over time and should be treated as soon as possible. Up to a point hammertoes can be treated without surgery and should be taken care of before they pass that point. After that, surgery may be the only solution.
The earlier a hammertoe is diagnosed, the better the prognosis and treatment options. Your doctor hammertoes 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
Any forefoot problems that cause pain or discomfort should be given prompt attention. Ignoring the symptoms can aggravate the condition and lead to a breakdown of tissue, or possibly even infection. Conservative treatment of mallet toes begins with accommodating the deformity. The goal is to relieve pressure, reduce friction, and transfer forces from the sensitive areas. Shoes with a high and broad toe box (toe area) are recommended for people suffering from forefoot deformities such as mallet toes. This prevents further irritation in the toe area from developing. Other conservative treatment includes forefoot supports such as gel toe caps, gel toe shields and toe crests. Gel forefoot supports provide immediate comfort and relief from common forefoot disorders without drying the skin.
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.
Most cases of hammertoe can be prevented by wearing shoes that fit properly and give the toes plenty of room. Some recommended guidelines include avoid shoes with pointed or narrow toes. Avoid shoes that are too tight or short. Avoid high-heeled shoes, which can force the toes forward. If the shoes hurt, don't wear them. Choose shoes with wide or boxy toes. Choose shoes that are a half-inch longer than your longest toe.