A Hammer toe is a toe that is contracted at the PIP joint (middle joint in the toe), potentially leading to severe pressure and pain. Ligaments and tendons that have tightened cause the toe’s joints to curl downwards. Hammer toes may occur in any toe except the big toe. There is often discomfort at the top part of the toe due to rubbing against the shoe.
If a foot is flat (pes planus, pronated), the flexor muscles on the bottom of the foot can overpower the others because a flatfoot is longer than a foot with a normal arch. When the foot flattens and lengthens, greater than normal tension is exerted on the flexor muscles in the toes. The toes are not strong enough to resist this tension and they may be overpowered, resulting in a contracture of the toe, or a bending down of the toe at the first toe joint (the proximal interphalangeal joint) which results in a hammertoe. If a foot has a high arch (pes cavus, supinated), the extensor muscles on the top of the foot can overpower the muscles on the bottom of the foot because the high arch weakens the flexor muscles. This allows the extensor muscles to exert greater than normal tension on the toes. The toes are not strong enough to resist this tension and they may be overpowered, resulting in a contracture of the toe, or a bending down of the toe at the first toe joint (the proximal interphalangeal joint) which results in a hammertoe.
Symptoms include sharp pain in the middle of the toe and difficulty straightening the toe. People with hammertoe may also develop blisters, which are fluid-filled pockets of skin, because the bent toe is likely to rub against the inside of a shoe. This increased friction may also lead to calluses, which are areas of thickened skin, and corns, which are hard lumps that may form on or between toes. Symptoms may be minor at first, but they can worsen over time.
The treatment options vary with the type and severity of each hammer toe, although identifying the deformity early in its development is important to avoid surgery. Your podiatric physician will examine and X-ray the affected area and recommend a treatment plan specific to your condition.
Non Surgical Treatment
To keep your hammertoes more comfortable, start by replacing your tight, narrow, pointy shoes with those that have plenty of room in the toes. Skip the high heels in favor of low-heeled shoes to take the pressure off your toes. You should have at least one-half inch between your longest toe and the tip of your shoe. If you don’t want to go out and buy new shoes, see if your local shoe repair shop can stretch your shoes to make the toe area more accommodating to your hammertoe.
Your podiatrist may recommend a surgical procedure if your hammertoes are not helped by the conservative care methods listed above. Surgery for hammertoes is performed to help straighten your crooked toe. Your surgery will be performed in your podiatrist?s office or at a hospital, depending on the severity of your hammertoe. A metal pin is sometimes used to help your affected toe maintain its straight position during your recovery.
It?s important to understand that preventing hammertoe can sometimes be difficult, since most symptoms do not appear until the condition is well developed. Nonetheless, here are some tips to help you prevent hammertoe. Do not wear shoes that are too narrow or short. Check your children?s shoe size often to ensure that their shoes hammertoes still fit correctly. Wear comfortable shoes that fit you properly. Remember that your feet widen and lengthen with age.