Hammer toes can occur when feet are crammed into shoes so tight that the front of the toes are pushed against the front of the shoes for prolonged periods of time. One or more toes then remain bent with the middle knuckle pointing up, even when shoes are taken off. If the condition is left untreated and tight footwear is continually worn, these bent toes can become so rigid that they can no longer straighten out on their own. While any shoes that are too tight can lead to this condition, high heels seem to be a big culprit since the elevated ankle causes more weight to push the toes forward. This may explain why the condition affects more women than men.
This condition is greatly influenced by the footwear we choose. Ladies who wear high heels are a perfect example. High heels force the toes to overlap and bend at the middle joint of the toe, resulting in hammertoe. But high heels are not the only culprits. Anyone who wears shoes that are too tight is increasing their risk of developing hammertoe. This progressive condition, which will only get better with treatment, can cause pain as the toes are forced to bend unnaturally.
A hammer toe may be painful, especially when irritated by a shoe. All four toe conditions may cause cramps in the toes, foot and leg due to the abnormal function of the tendons in the foot. If a mallet toe has occurred, you are likely to suffer from a corn at the end of the toe. A hammertoe may cause a corn on the top of the toe. Infections and ulcers can also occur. In severe cases a mallet toe, trigger toe, claw toe or a hammer toe may create a downward pressure on the foot, which can result in hard skin and corns on the soles of the feet.
The treatment options vary with the type and severity of each hammer toe, although identifying the deformity early in its development is important to avoid surgery. Your podiatric physician will examine and X-ray the affected area and recommend a treatment plan specific to your condition.
Non Surgical Treatment
Hammertoes that are not painful (asymptomatic) and still flexible may not require treatment. In mild cases, open-toed, low-heeled, or wider shoes and foam or moleskin pads can provide symptomatic relief by reducing pressure. Taping (strapping) the affected toe can help to reduce deformity and pain. Physical therapy to instruct patients in exercises that passively stretch tight structures and strengthen weak foot intrinsic muscles is also hammertoe helpful with mild cases. Periodic trimming (debridement) of corns (clavi, helomata) by a podiatrist can provide temporary relief. Corticosteroid injections are often very effective in reducing pain.
Surgery is the approach that is often necessary to correct hammertoe that fails to respond to nonsurgical management. Surgery is appropriate when the muscles and tendons involved in a hammertoe problem have become so tight that the joints are rigid, misaligned and unmovable. There are a number of surgical techniques for dealing with the complex range of joint, bone, muscle, tendon and ligament abnormalities that define each hammertoe's make-up. To correct a hammertoe deformity, the surgeon's goal is to restore the normal alignment of the toe joint, relieving the pressure that led to the hammertoe's development (this should also relieve the pain, as well). To do this, he or she may remove part of the boney structure that creates a prominence at the top of the joint. Tighten or loosen the muscles, tendons and ligaments around the toe joints. Realign the toe bones by cutting one or more and shifting their position, realigning muscles, tendons and ligaments accordingly. Use screws, wires or plates to hold the joint surfaces together until they heal. Reconstruct a badly damaged joint or replace it with an artificial implant.