A hammertoe or contracted toe is a deformity of the proximal interphalangeal joint of the second, third, or fourth toe causing it to be permanently bent, resembling a hammer. Mallet toe is a similar condition affecting the distal interphalangeal joint. Claw toe is another similar condition, with dorsiflexion of the proximal phalanx on the lesser metatarsophalangeal joint, combined with flexion of both the proximal and distal interphalangeal joints. Claw toe can affect the second, third, fourth, or fifth toes.
Many people develop hammertoe because they wear shoes that are too tight. Shoes with narrow toe boxes squeeze the toes together, forcing some to bend. This causes the toe muscles to contract. If the toes are forced into this cramped position too often, the muscles may permanently tighten, preventing the toes from extending. Chronic hammertoe can also cause the long bones that connect the toes to the foot, called metatarsals, to move out of position. The misaligned metatarsal bones may pinch a nerve running between them, which can cause a type of nerve irritation called a neuroma.
For some people, a hammer toe is nothing more than an unsightly deformity that detracts from the appearance of the foot. However, discomfort may develop if a corn or callus develops on the end or top of the toe. If pressure and friction continue on the end or top of the toe, a painful ulcer may develop. Discomfort or pain can lead to difficulty walking.
Hammer toes may be easily detected through observation. The malformation of the person’s toes begin as mild distortions, yet may worsen over time – especially if the factors causing the hammer toes are not eased or removed. If the condition is paid attention to early enough, the person’s toes may not be permanently damaged and may be treated without having to receive surgical intervention. If the person’s toes remain untreated for too long, however the muscles within the toes might stiffen even more and will require invasive procedures to correct the deformity.
Non Surgical Treatment
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 with a deep toe box. If the hammer toe becomes inflamed and painful, apply ice packs several times a day to reduce swelling. Avoid heels more than two inches tall. A loose-fitting pair of shoes can also help protect the foot Hammer toes while reducing pressure on the affected toe, making walking a little easier until a visit to your podiatrist can be arranged. While this treatment will make the hammer toe feel better, it is important to remember that it does not cure the condition. A trip to the podiatrist’s office will be necessary to repair the toe to allow for normal foot function. 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.
If you have a severe case of hammer toe or if the affected toe is no longer flexible, you may need surgery to straighten your toe joint. Surgery requires only a local anesthetic (numbing medicine for the affected area) and is usually an outpatient procedure. This means you don?t have to stay in the hospital for the surgery.
You can avoid many foot, heel and ankle problems with shoes that fit properly. See your doctor if you have foot pain that’s persistent and that affects your ability to walk properly and carry out other motions with your foot. Also, see your doctor if one or more of your toes has developed a clenched or claw-like appearance.