The term hammertoe refers to a common deformity of the foot in which either the second, third, or fourth toe is bent at the middle joint, so that the tip of the toe is bent downward while the middle of the toe is cocked upward resembling a hammer. The hammer toe deformity is the most common deformity of the small toes. When a hammer toe first develops, it can be bent back into its normal position. If not treated, a hammer toe may become rigid and require surgical correction in order to correct the deformity. Symptoms and signs associated with hammer toe include corns or calluses on the affected toe and pain in the affected area. It may be difficult for people suffering from hammer toe to find comfortable shoes.
Many people develop hammertoe because they wear shoes that are too tight. Shoes with narrow toe boxes squeeze the toes together, forcing some to bend. This causes the toe muscles to contract. If the toes are forced into this cramped position too often, the muscles may permanently tighten, preventing the toes from extending. Chronic hammertoe can also cause the long bones that connect the toes to the foot, called metatarsals, to move out of position. The misaligned metatarsal bones may pinch a nerve running between them, which can cause a type of nerve irritation called a neuroma.
Some people never have troubles with hammer toes. In fact, some people don't even know they have them. They can become uncomfortable, especially while wearing shoes. Many people who develop symptoms with hammer toes will develop corns, blisters and pain on the top of the toe, where it rubs against the shoe or between the toes, where it rubs against the adjacent toe. You can also develop calluses on the balls of the feet, as well as cramping, aching and an overall fatigue in the foot and leg.
Hammertoes are progressive, they don?t go away by themselves and usually they will get worse over time. However, not all cases are alike, some hammertoes progress more rapidly than others. Once your foot and ankle surgeon has evaluated your hammertoes, a treatment plan can be developed that is suited to your needs.
Non Surgical Treatment
Your doctor may prescribe some toe exercises that you can do at home to stretch and strengthen the muscles. For example, you can gently stretch the toes manually. You can use your toes to pick things up off the floor. While you watch television or read, you can put a towel flat under your feet and use your toes to crumple it. Finally, your doctor may recommend that you use commercially available straps, cushions or nonmedicated corn pads to relieve symptoms. If you have diabetes, poor circulation or a lack of feeling in your feet, talk to your doctor before attempting any self-treatment.
In advanced cases in which the toe has become stiff and permanently bent, the toe can be straightened with surgery. One type of surgery involves removing a small section of the toe bone to allow the toe to lie flat. Surgery for hammertoe usually is classified as a cosmetic procedure. Cosmetic foot surgeries sometimes result in complications such as pain or numbness, so it's better to treat the problem with a shoe that fits properly.
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 hammertoes 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.