The term, hammertoes is used to describe the collective physical deformity of the second, third and fourth toe on a person's foot when they are permanently bent at one or two of their joints, often times at their middle joints or, 'proximal interphalangeal,' joints. The condition is also referred to as, 'contracted toes,' and earned its name for the resulting bowed appearance of the toes that made them appear similar to hammers. The distortion of the usual contour of the person's toes is usually a result of wearing shoes that are too short or narrow and apply consistent pressure to the toes, forcing them to be pushed together and lie obliquely. The situation is particularly true in the case of shoes that are designed to narrow towards the toe box.
People who have a high-arched feet have an increased chance of hammer toes occurring. Also, patients with bunion deformities notice the second toe elevating and becoming hammered to make room for the big toe that is moving toward it. Some patients damage the ligament that holds the toe in place at the bottom of the joint that connects the toe and foot. When this ligament (plantar plate) is disrupted or torn, the toe floats upward at this joint. Hammer toes also occur in women wearing ill-fitting shoes or high heels, and children wearing shoes they have outgrown.
Well-developed hammertoes are distinctive due to the abnormal bent shape of the toe. However, there are many other common symptoms. Some symptoms may be present before the toe becomes overly bent or fixed in the contracted position. Often, before the toe becomes permanently contracted, there will be pain or irritation over the top of the toe, particularly over the joint. The symptoms are pronounced while wearing shoes due to the top of the toe rubbing against the upper portion of the shoe. Often, there is a significant amount of friction between the toe and the shoe or between the toe and the toes on either side of it. The corns may be soft or hard, depending on their location and age. The affected toe may also appear red with irritated skin. In more severe cases, blisters or open sores may form. Those with diabetes should take extra care if they develop any of these symptoms, as they could lead to further complications.
Your doctor is very likely to be able to diagnose your hammertoe simply by examining your foot. Even before that, he or she will probably ask about your family and personal medical history and evaluate your gait as you walk and the types of shoes you wear. You'll be asked about your symptoms, when they started and when they occur. You may also be asked to flex your toe so that your doctor can get an idea of your range of motion. He or she may order x-rays in order to better define your deformity.
Non Surgical Treatment
Your doctor will decide what type of hammertoe you have and rule out other medical conditions. Treatment may range from more appropriate footgear to periodic trimming and padding of the corn. Cortisone injections may be indicated if a bursitis is present. Antibiotics may hammertoes be utilized in the presence of infection. Removable accommodative pads may be made for you.
Surgical correction is necessary in more severe cases and may consist of removing a bone spur (exostectomy) removing the enlarged bone and straightening the toe (arthroplasty), sometimes with internal fixation using a pin to realign the toe; shortening a long metatarsal bone (osteotomy) fusing the toe joint and then straightening the toe (arthrodesis) or simple tendon lengthening and capsule release in milder, flexible hammertoes (tenotomy and capsulotomy). The procedure chosen depends in part on how flexible the hammertoe is.
The easiest way to avoid hammertoe is to wear shoes that fit properly. Orthopaedic surgeons and podiatrists recommend shoes that have roomy toe boxes, which give the toes plenty of space to flex. Shoes that fit well should also cushion the arch in the middle of the foot. This helps to distribute the weight of the body evenly across the bones and joints of the foot. The size and shape of a foot can change with age, and many people inadvertently wear the wrong size shoe. Podiatrists recommend having your feet measured regularly to ensure that your shoes fit properly.