Hammer Toe Correction

Hammer ToeOverview

Hammer toes is a contracture (bending) of one or both joints of the second, third, fourth, or fifth (little) toes. This abnormal bending can put pressure on the toe when wearing shoes, causing problems to develop. Hammertoes usually start out as mild deformities and get progressively worse over time. In the earlier stages, hammer toes are flexible and the symptoms can often be managed with noninvasive measures. But if left untreated, hammer toes can become more rigid and will not respond to non-surgical treatment. Because of the progressive nature of hammertoes, they should receive early attention. Hammertoes never get better without some kind of intervention.

Causes

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.

Hammer ToeSymptoms

A hammertoe may be present but not always painful unless irritated by shoes. One may have enlarged toe joints with some thickened skin and no redness or swelling. However, if shoes create pressure on the joint, the pain will usually range from pinching and squeezing to sharp and burning. In long standing conditions, the dislocated joints can cause the pain of arthritis.

Diagnosis

The exam may reveal a toe in which the near bone of the toe (proximal phalanx) is angled upward and the middle bone of the toe points in the opposite direction (plantar flexed). Toes may appear crooked or rotated. The involved joint may be painful when moved, or stiff. There may be areas of thickened skin (corns or calluses) on top of or between the toes, a callus may also be observed at the tip of the affected toe beneath the toenail. An attempt to passively correct the deformity will help elucidate the best treatment option as the examiner determines whether the toe is still flexible or not. It is advisable to assess palpable pulses, since their presence is associated with a good prognosis for healing after surgery. X-rays will demonstrate the contractures of the involved joints, as well as possible arthritic changes and bone enlargements (exostoses, spurs). X-rays of the involved foot are usually performed in a weight-bearing position.

Non Surgical Treatment

Hammer toes usually get Hammer toe progressively worse over time, especially if you avoid seeking care. Not all cases are the same, so it is important to get your podiatrist or foot surgeon to evaluate your condition so that you can get the treatment you need as soon as possible. Your treatment options will vary depending on the severity of your hammer toe. You may not require surgery to treat your hammer toe. Your doctor may suggest one of these less invasive measures. Instead of wearing shoes that are too high or too short, wear comfortable shoes that have plenty of room and are flat or low-heeled. Your doctor can prescribe pads that will prevent your corns or calluses from getting irritated. Avoid over-the-counter medicated pads, as they contain acid that can worsen your condition. An orthotic device can be customized to fit your shoe and foot. It can help control your tendon and muscle imbalance, which in turn may ease your pain. NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen can reduce inflammation. By relieving swelling in your toe joint, you can alleviate your pain. Splints or small straps can be placed on your toe by a foot surgeon to realign your bent toe. Applying ice packs wrapped in cloth on your hammer toe can reduce inflammation and swelling. Gently massaging your toes can assist in alleviating your pain caused by hammer toes. Try exercises that stretch your feet as these can help restore your muscle balance. A simple exercise that can help is to pick up a cloth or small object from the floor by curling your toes. This action will help your feet and toes by stretching them.

Surgical Treatment

If this fails or if treatment is not sought until the toes are permanently misaligned, then surgery may be required. Surgery may involve either cutting the tendon or fusing the joint. Congenital conditions should be treated in early childhood with manipulations and splinting.

Hammer ToePrevention

Hammertoe can usually be prevented by wearing shoes that fit properly and give the toes plenty of room. Don?t wear shoes with pointed or narrow toes. Don?t wear shoes that are too tight or short. Don?t wear high-heeled shoes, which can force the toes forward. Choose shoes with wide or boxy toes. Choose shoes that are a half-inch longer than your longest toe. If shoes hurt, don?t wear them.

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