Hammer toes is the general term used to describe an abnormal contraction or “buckling” of the toe because of a partial or complete dislocation of one of the joints of the toe or the joint where the toe joins with the rest of the foot. As the toe becomes deformed, it rubs against the shoe and the irritation causes the body to build up more and thicker skin to help protect the area. The common hammertoe name for the thicker skin is a corn.
People who are born with long bones in their toes are more likely to develop hammer toe. Children who wear shoes they have outgrown may develop this condition. People who wear very narrow shoes or high-heeled shoes are also more likely to develop a hammer toe. Sometimes, pressure from a bunion can cause hammer toe. Rheumatoid arthritis is another a risk factor.
Symptoms include sharp pain in the middle of the toe and difficulty straightening the toe. People with hammertoe may also develop blisters, which are fluid-filled pockets of skin, because the bent toe is likely to rub against the inside of a shoe. This increased friction may also lead to calluses, which are areas of thickened skin, and corns, which are hard lumps that may form on or between toes. Symptoms may be minor at first, but they can worsen over time.
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
Wearing proper footwear may ease your foot pain. Low-heeled shoes with a deep toe box and flexible material covering the toes may help. Make sure there’s a half-inch of space between your longest toe and the inside tip of your shoe. Allowing adequate space for your toes will help relieve pressure and pain. Avoid over-the-counter corn-removal products, many of which contain acid that can cause severe skin irritation. It’s also risky to try shaving or cutting an unsightly corn off your toe. Foot wounds can easily get infected, and foot infections are often difficult to treat, especially if you have diabetes or poor circulation.
Until recently, wires were used for surgical correction. In this technique, one or more wires are inserted into the bone through both the affected joint and a normally healthy toe joint, and the end of the toe. These wires stay in place for four to six weeks, protruding from the end of the toes. Due to the protruding wire, simple things such working, driving, bathing and even sleeping are difficult while these wires are in place. During this recovery period, patients often experience discomfort during sleep and are subject possible infection.
To prevent a hammertoe, never squeeze your toes into shoes that force them to bend unnaturally. Those tendons can tighten up, and leave a permanent, claw-like bend in your toe. Always slip your feet into soft, roomy shoes that easily accommodate all of your toes. Stretching your toes can also help keep the tendons in the toes relaxed, and prevent a hammertoe. Use your hands to gently straighten and stretch your toes or try to pick up objects with your toes, grabbing something from the floor, for example. Sitting on a blanket and using your toes to grab the ends with also relax your feet.