The smallest four toes of each foot have three bony segments connected by two joints, just as the fingers do. Hammer toes is a deformity in which one or more of the small toes develops a bend at the joint between the first and second segments so that the tip of the toe turns downward, making it looks like a hammer or claw. The second toe is affected most often.
Though hammer toes are principally hereditary, several other factors can contribute to the deformity. Most prevalent is an imbalance of the muscles and tendons that control the motion of the toe. When the tendon that pulls the toe upward is not as strong as the one that pulls it downward there is a disparity of power. This forces the toe to buckle and gradually become deformed. If the it persists, the toe can become rigid and harder to correct.
Hammer toes can cause problems with walking and lead to other foot problems, such as blisters, calluses, and sores. Pain is caused by constant friction over the top of the toe?s main joint. It may be difficult to fit into some shoe gear due to the extra space required for the deformed toe. In many cases there will be pain on the ball of the foot over the metatarsals along with callus formation. This is due to the toes not functioning properly, failing to properly touch the ground during the gait cycle. The ball of the foot then takes the brunt of the ground forces, which causes chronic pain.
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 hammertoe 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
If your toe is still flexible, your doctor may recommend that you change to roomier and more comfortable footwear and that you wear shoe inserts (orthotics) or pads. Wearing inserts or pads can reposition your toe and relieve pressure and pain. In addition, your doctor may suggest exercises to stretch and strengthen your toe muscles. These may include picking up marbles or a thin towel off the floor with your toes.
Surgery to correct for a hammertoe may be performed as an outpatient procedure at a hospital, surgery center, or in the office of your podiatrist. There are multiple procedures that can be used depending on your individual foot structure and whether the deformity is flexible or rigid. There may be a surgical cut in the bone to get rid of an exostosis, or a joint may be completely removed to allow the toe to lay straight.