Hammer toes can result in pain and difficulty in moving the toe. Corns, calluses and blisters can occur from the rubbing of the contracted toe against the inside of the footwear. Both hammertoes and mallet toe can cause pain during walking, running and other activities. If left untreated, the tendons of the toe may contract and tighten, causing the toe to become permanently stiff and contracted. A podiatric physician or surgeon may have to cut or realign tendons and/or remove pieces of bone to straighten the toe. This may require that the bones be fixed temporarily with pins while the toe heals.
Your shoes, your genetic predisposition, an underlying medical condition or all of these can make you susceptible to developing one of these deformities of the toes. The genes your parents gave you. When it comes to genetics, the foot type you?re born with predisposes you to developing this type of joint deformity over a lifetime. For many, a flat flexible foot leads to hammertoes as the foot tries to stabilize against a flattening arch. Those with high arches can also form hammertoes as the extensor tendons overpower the flexors.
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.
Some questions your doctor may ask of you include, when did you first begin having foot 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
In the early stages, the deformities from mallet toe, claw toe and hammertoe can be corrected. But if treatment is delayed too long, permanent stiffness can ensue which can only be corrected by surgery. The most effective treatment options are good fitting footwear. Shoes with a wide toebox will be more comfortable and will reduce the tension on the muscles and friction on the toes. Avoid high heels as they push your feet forwards to the front of the shoes. This increases the pressure on the toes, forcing them to bend more than usual. Shoes should ideally be half an inch longer than your longest toe. Exercises to strengthen and stretch the muscles can be really helpful. Simple things like trying to pick marbles up with your feet or scrunching up a towel underneath your foot can work well.
In more advanced cases of hammer toe, or when the accompanying pain cannot be relieved by conservative treatment, surgery may be required. Different types of surgical procedures are performed to correct hammer toe, depending on the location and extent of the problem. Surgical treatment is generally effective for both flexible and fixed (rigid) forms of hammer toe. Recurrence following surgery may develop in persons with flexible hammer toe, particularly if they resume wearing poorly-fitted shoes after the deformity is corrected.
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 hammertoes 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.