A Hammer Toe occurs when the joint of the toes curl down. The reason they curl abnormally is due to a muscle imbalance which results in the tendons becoming unnaturally tight. They are due to Heredity, improper shoes, and Arthritis. There are two types of hammer toes, flexible or rigid. These classification are based on the mobility of the toe joints. A flexible hammer toe is one with a flexible toe joint that allows it to be straightend with your finger. In time a flexible joint may turn into a rigid hammer toe. Normally flexible hammer toes are much less painful than rigid hammer toes. A rigid hammer toe is one with a rigid toe joint, one that is not moveable with your finger. These rigid toe joints can be very painful and limit the ability to move.
Shoes that narrow toward the toe force the smaller toes into a bent upward position. This makes the toes rub against the inside of the shoe, and creates corns and calluses, aggravating the toes further. If the shoes have a high heel, the feet are forced forward and down, squeezing the toes against the front of the shoe, which increases the pressure on the toes and makes them bend further. Eventually, the toe muscles become unable to straighten the toe.
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.
First push up on the bottom of the metatarsal head associated with the affected toe and see if the toe straightens out. If it does, then an orthotic could correct the problem, usually with a metatarsal pad. If the toe does not straighten out when the metatarsal head is pushed up, then that indicates that contracture in the capsule and ligaments (capsule contracts because the joint was in the wrong position for too long) of the MTP joint has set in and surgery is required. Orthotics are generally required post-surgically.
Non Surgical Treatment
Your podiatrist may recommend one or more of these treatments to manage your hammer toes. Wear shoes with roomy toe boxes which don?t force your toes together. Exercises to stretch and strengthen muscles in the toes. Over the counter toe straps, cushions, and corn pads. Custom orthotic inserts. Toe caps or toe slings. In severe cases, surgery to release the muscles in the affected toes.
Sometimes surgery can not be avoided. If needed, the surgery chosen is decided by whether we are dealing with a flexible or rigid hammer toe. If the surgery is on a flexible hammer toe, it is performed on soft tissue structures like the tendon and or capsule of the flexor hammer toe. Rigid hammer toes need bone surgeries into the joint of the toe to repair it. This bone surgery is called an arthroplasty.