HammertoeOverview

If the joint on one of your toes, usually the toe next to the big toe or the smallest toe, points upward rather than lying flat, you might have a Hammer toe. The condition is actually a deformity that happens when one of the toe muscles becomes weak and puts pressure on the toe?s tendons Hammer toes and joints. This pressure forces the toe to become misshapen and stick up at the joint. Also, there?s frequently a corn or callus on top of the deformed toe. This outgrowth can cause pain when it rubs against the shoe.

Causes

The most common cause of hammertoe is a muscle/tendon imbalance. This imbalance, which leads to a bending of the toe, results from mechanical (structural) changes in the foot that occur over time in some people. Hammertoes may be aggravated by shoes that don?t fit properly. A hammertoe may result if a toe is too long and is forced into a cramped position when a tight shoe is worn. Occasionally, hammertoe is the result of an earlier trauma to the toe. In some people, hammertoes are inherited.

Hammer ToeSymptoms

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.

Diagnosis

Your doctor is very likely to be able to diagnose your hammertoe simply by examining your foot. Even before that, he or she will probably ask about your family and personal medical history and evaluate your gait as you walk and the types of shoes you wear. You’ll be asked about your symptoms, when they started and when they occur. You may also be asked to flex your toe so that your doctor can get an idea of your range of motion. He or she may order x-rays in order to better define your deformity.

Non Surgical Treatment

If your toe is still flexible, your doctor may recommend that you change to roomier and more comfortable footwear and that you wear shoe inserts (orthotics) or pads. Wearing inserts or pads can reposition your toe and relieve pressure and pain. In addition, your doctor may suggest exercises to stretch and strengthen your toe muscles. These may include picking up marbles or a thin towel off the floor with your toes.

Surgical Treatment

If these non-invasive treatments don?t work, or if the joint is rigid, a doctor?s only recourse may be to perform surgery. During the surgery, the doctor makes an incision and cuts the tendon to release it or moves the tendon away from or around the joint. Sometimes part of the joint needs to be removed or the joint needs to be fused. Each surgery is different in terms of what is needed to treat the hammertoe. Normally after any foot surgery, patients use a surgical shoe for four to six weeks, but often the recovery from hammertoe surgery is more rapid than that. An unfortunate reality is that hammertoe can actually return even after surgery if a patient continues to make choices that will aggravate the situation. Though doctors usually explain pretty clearly what needs to be done to avoid this.

Hammer ToePrevention

Good circulation is essential. When you’re sitting down, put your feet up. If you’ve been sitting for a while, stretch your legs and feet. Give yourself a foot massage or trade foot massages with someone you love. A warm foot bath is also a good idea. Most people have one foot that’s bigger than the other. Fit your shoes to the bigger foot. Buy shoes at the end of the day, as feet tend to swell a bit and you will get a better sense of fit. When buying shoes, wear the socks that you will be using when wearing that shoe. For example, wear an athletic sock when buying athletic shoes and a dress sock when purchasing dress shoes. If the shoe does not feel good at the time of purchase, then it will never feel good.

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