Patients and doctors often refer to all forms of toe abnormalities as a Hammer toes. There are in fact four main forms of toe abnormalities, hammer toes, claw toes, mallet toes and trigger toes. A hammertoe can be best described as an abnormal contraction or "buckling" of a toe. This occurs due to a partial or complete dislocation of one of the joints that form the toe. As the toe continues to be deformed, it will press up against the shoe and may cause corns.
Claw, hammer and mallet toe are most commonly caused by wearing high heels or ill-fitting shoes that are too tight e.g. narrow toebox. If shoes like this are worn for long periods, the foot is held in a slightly bent position and gradually over time, the muscles tighten and shorten. If this continues for long enough, then the muscles become so tight that even when shoes are removed, the toe is still held in the bent position. Another common cause is Morton?s Toe, where the second toe is longer than the big toe. In this case, the second toe is commonly squashed into a shoe into an unnaturally bent position.
People who have painful hammertoes visit their podiatrist because their affected toe is either rubbing on the end their shoe (signaling a contracted flexor tendon), rubbing on the top of their shoe (signaling a contracted extensor tendon), or rubbing on another toe and causing a painful buildup of thick skin, known as a corn.
The earlier a hammertoe is diagnosed, the better the prognosis and treatment options. Your doctor will be able to diagnose your hammertoe with a simple examination of the foot and your footwear. He or she may take an x-ray to check the severity of the condition. You may also be asked about your symptoms, your normal daily activities, and your medical and family history.
Non Surgical Treatment
Wear wide shoes with plenty of room in the toes and resilient soles. Avoid wearing shoes with pointed toes. Commercially available felt pads or cushions may ease pressure from the shoe on the toe. Toe caps (small, padded sleeves that fit around the tip of the toe) may relieve the pain of hammer toe. Do toe exercises, to help toe muscles become stronger and more flexible.
Arch supports or an orthotic shoe insert prescribed by your doctor or podiatrist may help to redistribute weight on the foot. These devices do not cure the problem but may ease the symptoms of either hammer toe or mallet toe.
Hammertoe surgery is performed when conservative measures have been exhausted and pain or deformity still persists. The surgery is performed on an outpatient basis. It typically required about one hour of time. An incision is placed over the inter-phalangeal joint. Once the bone is exposed, the end portion of the bone is removed. Your surgeon may then use pins or other fixation devices to assist in straightening the toe. These devices may be removed at a later date if necessary. Recovery for hammertoe surgery is approximately 10 to 14 days. You are hammertoe able to walk immediately following the surgery in a surgical shoe. Swelling may be present but is managed as needed. Physical therapy is used to help reduce swelling in the toe or toes after surgery. Most of these toe surgeries can be performed in the office or the outpatient surgery under local anesthesia.
In addition to wearing proper shoes and socks, walking often and properly can prevent foot injury and pain. The head should be erect, the back straight, and the arms relaxed and swinging freely at the side. Step out on the heel, move forward with the weight on the outside of the foot, and complete the step by pushing off the big toe. Exercises specifically for the toe and feet are easy to perform and help strengthen them and keep them flexible. Helpful exercises include the following. Raise and curl the toes 10 times, holding each position for a count of five. Put a rubber band around both big toes and pull the feet away from each other. Count to five. Repeat 10 times. Pick up a towel with the toes. Repeat five times. Pump the foot up and down to stretch the calf and shin muscles. Perform for 2 or 3 minutes.