A hammertoe is a toe that gets bent at an angle at the first joint of the digit, so that the toe looks like an upside-down V when viewed from the side.
Any toe can become a hammertoe, but the condition usually affects the second through fifth toes, known as the lesser digits, and not the “Big Toe.” Hammertoes seem to occur more often in women than men.
Hammertoes are more than unsightly – they can cause great pain and discomfort, and impact your quality of life.
A hammertoe occurs from an imbalance in the muscles surrounding the middle toe joint. These muscles, tendons, and ligaments work together to bend and straighten the toes. If one of the muscles weakens, it cannot bend or straighten the toe. If the toe stays bent long enough, the muscles tighten and the toe will not be able to straighten out.
Are There Different Types of Hammer Toes?
There are two types of hammertoes. Flexible Hammertoes and rigid hammertoes. Flexible hammertoes, which are still moveable at the joint, are less serious because they can be diagnosed and treated before they become the more severe kind, rigid hammertoes.
Rigid hammertoes are considered more serious because they are stuck in that position. In a rigid hammertoe the tendons tighten and the joint becomes misaligned and inflexible. In most cases, surgery is the only treatment available to correct the problem.
Rigid hammertoes are usually the result of severe arthritis, or come from a flexible hammertoe that went too long without treatment.
How Are Hammer Toes Treated?
The sooner you see a podiatrist for a problem with hammertoes, the better. Some of the more conservative treatments that a podiatrist may suggest for hammertoes include:
- Padding & Taping – Padding the hammertoe minimizes pain and allows the patient to continue a normal, active life. Taping helps to keep the foot in a normal position, reducing stress and pain.
- Medication- Anti-inflammatory drugs and cortisone injections may be prescribed to ease the pain and inflammation.
- Orthotics- Specialized shoe inserts may be useful in controlling foot function. This can help to reduce symptoms and prevent the deformity caused by hammertoes from becoming worse.
However, in some cases, especially in the more advanced rigid hammertoes, surgery may be the only option. The surgery aims to reposition the toe, realign tendons, and remove deformed or injured bone. Often, surgery is carried out as an outpatient, so the individual can normally go home on the same day as the procedure.
When it comes to foot problems, it’s shoes, and not laughter that can be the “best medicine.”
Hammer toe, like many other foot problems, can be avoided with wearing proper footwear. Proper footwear should have the following:
- Low heels – higher heels force the feet into unnatural positions and often bend the toes.
- Enough toe room – shoes should be properly sized and pointy-toed shoes should be avoided. Shoes should accommodate for the longest toe, which may not always be the big toe.
- Adjustability – shoes with adjustable laces and straps are best.
- Proper arch support – arch support prevents a number of foot ailments.