WHAT IS A HAMMERTOE?
A hammer toe is a contracture, or bending, of the toe at the first joint of the digit. This bending causes the toe to appear like an upside-down V when looked at from the side. Any toe can be involved, but the condition usually affects the second through fifth toes, known as the lesser digits. Hammer toes are more common in females than males.
WHAT CAUSES HAMMERTOES?
A hammer toe develops because of an abnormal balance of the muscles in the toes. This abnormal balance causes increased pressures on the tendons and joints of the toe, leading to its contracture. Heredity and trauma can also lead to the formation of a hammer toe. Arthritis is another factor, because the balance around the toe in people with arthritis is disrupted. Wearing shoes that are too tight and cause the toes to squeeze can also cause a hammer toe to form.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF HAMMEROES?
The symptoms of a hammer toe include the following:
Pain at the top of the bent toe upon pressure from footwear
Formation of corns/calluses on the top of the joint
Redness and swelling if the toe(s)
Reduced or painful motion of the toe joint
Pain in the ball of the foot at the base of the affected toe
WHAT CAN I DO TO TREAT HAMMERTOES?
What can you do for relief?
Apply a commercial, non-medicated hammer toe pad around the bony prominence of the hammer toe to decrease pressure on the area.
Wear a shoe that has extra depth in toe box.
Avoid wearing shoes that are too tight or narrow. Children should have their shoes properly fitted on a regular basis, as their feet can often outgrow their shoes rapidly.
HOW TO DIAGNOSE AND TREAT HAMMERTOES?
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.
X-rays are normally taken to asses the severity of the deformity and to look for any changes of the underlying bone.
Padding and Taping:
Often padding and taping are the first steps in a treatment plan. Padding the hammer toe prominence minimizes pain and allows the patient to continue a normal, active life. Taping may change the imbalance around the toes and thus relieve the stress and pain.
Anti-inflammatory drugs and cortisone injections can be prescribed to ease acute pain and inflammation caused by the joint deformity.
Custom shoe inserts (orthotics) may be useful in controlling foot function and reducing the deformity. An orthotic device may reduce pain and prevent the worsening of the hammer toe deformity.
For more severe hammertoes, surgery may be necessary to reduce pain and restore a patient's lifestyle.
HOW CAN I PREVENT HAMMERTOES?
There are several things you can do to help prevent hammer toes from forming or progressing:
Wear supportive shoes to help prevent deformities. Hammer toes are often related to faulty foot mechanics, especially foot flattening.
Wear custom orthotics prescribed by your podiatrist. Orthotics may slow the progression or prevent the development of hammer toes.
Avoid shoes with narrow or pointed toe boxes that can compress the toes.