Hammer toes is a deformity of the toe in which the toe bends downward at the middle joint, causing it to resemble a hammer. Hammertoes usually begin as mild problems, but over time they can develop into severe cases. Hammertoes are often flexible during the initial stages, and if treatment is administered promptly, symptoms can be managed with non-surgical methods. But if time passes and you do not seek treatment, your hammertoe will become more rigid, and surgical treatment may be required.
Medical problems, such as stroke or diabetes that affect the nerves, may also lead to hammertoe. For example, diabetes can result in poor circulation, especially in the feet. As a result, the person may not feel that their toes are bent into unnatural positions. The likelihood of developing hammertoe increases with age and may be affected by gender (more common in women) and toe length; for example, when the second toe is longer than the big toe, hammertoe is more likely to occur. Hammertoe may also be present at birth. Genetics may factor in to developing hammertoe, particularly if the foot is flat or has a high arch, resulting in instability.
The most obvious symptoms of this injury will be the the middle toe joint is permanently bent at an angle. In the beginning movement may still be possible but as time passes and the injury worsens the toe will be locked in place and possible require hammer toe correction surgery to fix. Another key indicator of hammer toe is that a lump or corn will form on top of the toe. The toe joint will be painful and walking can cause severe discomfort. Occasionally a callus may form on the sole of the injured foot. If you see any of these symptoms together or have been enduring pain for some time, seeing a podiatrist should be your next step.
Some questions your doctor may ask of you include, when did you first begin having foot hammertoe problems? How much pain are your feet or toes causing you? Where is the pain located? What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms? What, if anything, appears to worsen your symptoms? What kind of shoes do you normally wear? Your doctor can diagnose hammertoe or mallet toe by examining your foot. Your doctor may also order X-rays to further evaluate the bones and joints of your feet and toes.
Non Surgical Treatment
Your doctor will decide what type of hammertoe you have and rule out other medical conditions. Treatment may range from more appropriate footgear to periodic trimming and padding of the corn. Cortisone injections may be indicated if a bursitis is present. Antibiotics may be utilized in the presence of infection. Removable accommodative pads may be made for you.
Any surgery must be carefully considered and approached in a serious manner, as any procedure is serious for the patient. But in most cases the procedure is relatively straight forward. The surgery can be done using local anesthetic and does not require hospitalization. The patient goes home in a special post-operative shoe or a regular sandal, and in most cases can walk immediately. That’s not to say that the patient is walking or functioning normally immediately after the procedure. The patient must take some time off work to rest the foot and allow it to heal.
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.