The hammertoe condition is a deformity that tends to begin on the second through fourth toes, but it also occurs less frequently on the fifth (little) toe. A hammertoe occurs from a ligament and muscle imbalance around the area of the toes joint.
The condition results in a contracture (bending) deformity of one or both joints of the affected toe.
Usually a symptom of too-short shoes, the affected toes take on a curved appearance. Over time, if the condition isn’t corrected, the other toe joints will begin to hyperextend and curl.
Toes that are squashed into ill-fitting shoes over time can become inflexible and rigid. They also may not be able to straighten out if they will become fixed in a curled position. One of the most common issues relating to hammertoes is irritation and rubbing on the top surface of the bent toe. Eventually, due to pressure build up over the joints and at the end of the toe, painful calluses can develop.
Hammertoes are a potentially serious problem for people who suffer from poor circulation or diabetes.
Among people who live in cultures that wear shoes, hammertoes and claw toes tend to both be quite common conditions. Most cases of these issues can be directly traced back to badly fitting and too-short shoes, though a muscle imbalance may also be the causal culprit.
It is easy to make a diagnosis through a quick examination of the affected toes. In some cases, tests are required to ensure that the condition isn’t a result of nerve problems.
Conservative Non-surgical Treatment for Hammertoes
Simply changing to footwear that fits correctly can help and even reverse the hammertoe condition if caught early enough when the toe is still flexible. Narrow, tight, high-heeled shoes should not been worn. Instead, shoes with a roomy toe box that are one-inch longer in length than your longest toe should be the shoe of choice. If you live in a warm weather climate, such as in Pensacola, then sandals can be worn, as long as they do not rub or pinch other areas of the foot.
Calluses and pressure points caused by these contractures can be treated with the placement of pads over the calluses in order to relieve pressure.
Special toe exercises that you can perform at home can be done to strengthen and stretch your muscles. These include simple exercises, like using your toes to pick up things from the floor or crumpling a towel with your toes.
Corrective Surgery for Hammertoes
In more advanced cases, however, there may be a contracture, which means that the toes will not straighten out on their own. This is because the toe had been bent and held in one position for such a long period of time that the muscles tighten and cannot stretch out.
In these cases where conservative methods have not worked or when the toe is permanently curled, corrective surgery by your Pensacola orthopedic surgeon can realign the affected toe. This hammertoe surgery is usually performed on an outpatient basis and under general anesthesia.
During the procedure, pins are also placed within the toes during the surgical process to keep them straight. These are usually removed a few weeks post surgery.
After surgery, it is commonplace to be fitted with a special shoe that has a very stiff wooden sole to protect the toes and stop them from bending.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Why is my hammer toe numb?
Numbness can be a complication that results from surgery for hammer toe. Because of this, prevention is best, which includes making sure you only wear shoes that fit correctly. Several things can cause numbness. For instance, you could experience numbness temporarily due to the anesthesia surgeons use during surgery. The surgery could also cause nerve damage that results in pain and numbness, but this is a less commonly reported complication of hammer toe surgery.
Q: When is it time to think about treating my hammer toe?
While hammer toe isn't necessarily a medical emergency, it does progress and gets worse over time. If you notice any symptoms of hammer toe, you need to see a doctor right away. Some symptoms to look out for include:
- Redness, swelling or a burning sensation
- Pain in the toe affected
- Not being able to straighten your toe
- The development of open sores on your toe if your case is severe
These open sores could get infected so if you see any sign, such as a fever or redness or pus in your skin that surrounds your sore, your hammer toe is infected. If you have these signs, call us at Nilssen Orthopedics - Ankle and Foot Center at (850) 435-4800 as soon as possible.
Q: How does hammer toe develop?
You have two joints on your toe that enable your toe to bend at the bottom and middle. When the middle joint bends downward or becomes flexed, that's when hammer toe occurs.
Some causes of hammer toe include:
- A trauma that injures your toe
- Wearing improper footwear
- A high foot arch that's unusual
- Bunion pressure
- Tightened tendons or ligaments
Peripheral nerve or spinal cord dame could cause hammer toe. While there are things you can do to prevent hammer toe, certain conditions like above could cause it no matter what you are doing to prevent it. Remember, if your doctor treats the underlying condition that’s causing your hammer toe, this could also cure your hammer toe itself.
Q: Can hammer toe be fixed without surgery?
Thankfully, most hammer toe cases improve; even reverse completely with surgery by an orthopedic surgeon if you treat it in its early stages while you can still flex your toe. Therefore, see your doctor immediately after seeing a sign or symptom of hammer toe developing to ensure you have a good prognosis. The earlier you see your doctor and get treatment the better as it is a condition that progresses.
Q: Will hammer toe cure itself?
While there are pain-relieving methods you can use at home to make your toe feel better, a podiatrist might have to correct the deformity. They will also be able to identify what caused your hammer toe which will help with finding the proper treatment.
Q: Is hammer toe hereditary?
Hammer toes aren't hereditary, but the foot type causing your hammer toe is. So, if one of your parents or even grandparents have humped up toes, you're likely at risk of getting hammer toe. If you have feet that look like another family member's, and they have one or more hammer toes, get checked by a doctor. Your doctor can address the problem with a custom-made orthotic that will help restore your foot's stability and even prevent or stop a hammer toe from developing.