A Hammer toe is a toe that is contracted at the PIP joint (middle joint in the toe), potentially leading to severe pressure and pain. Ligaments and tendons that have tightened cause the toe’s joints to curl downwards. Hammer toes may occur in any toe except the big toe. There is often discomfort at the top part of the toe due to rubbing against the shoe.
Most hammertoes are caused by wearing ill-fitting, tight or high-heeled shoes over a long period of time. Shoes that don?t fit well can crowd the toes, putting pressure on the middle toes and causing them to hammertoe curl downward. Other causes include genes. Some people are born with hammertoe, bunions. These knobby bumps sometimes develop at the side of the big toe. This can make the big toe bend toward the other toes. The big toe can then overlap and crowd the smaller toes. Arthritis in a toe joint can lead to hammertoe.
A hammertoe may be present but not always painful unless irritated by shoes. One may have enlarged toe joints with some thickened skin and no redness or swelling. However, if shoes create pressure on the joint, the pain will usually range from pinching and squeezing to sharp and burning. In long standing conditions, the dislocated joints can cause the pain of arthritis.
The exam may reveal a toe in which the near bone of the toe (proximal phalanx) is angled upward and the middle bone of the toe points in the opposite direction (plantar flexed). Toes may appear crooked or rotated. The involved joint may be painful when moved, or stiff. There may be areas of thickened skin (corns or calluses) on top of or between the toes, a callus may also be observed at the tip of the affected toe beneath the toenail. An attempt to passively correct the deformity will help elucidate the best treatment option as the examiner determines whether the toe is still flexible or not. It is advisable to assess palpable pulses, since their presence is associated with a good prognosis for healing after surgery. X-rays will demonstrate the contractures of the involved joints, as well as possible arthritic changes and bone enlargements (exostoses, spurs). X-rays of the involved foot are usually performed in a weight-bearing position.
Non Surgical Treatment
The most common treatment is to wear more comfortable shoes. When choosing a shoe, make sure the toe area is high and broad and has enough room for hammer toes. If there is chronic pain, surgery may be needed to correct a malalignment. Surgical treatments are aimed at loosening up the contracted toe joints to allow them to align properly. Other types of treatment are products designed to relieve hammer toes, such as hammer toe crests and hammer toe splints. These devices will help hold down the hammer toe and provide relief to the forefoot. Gel toe shields and gel toe caps can also be used. Gel toe shields and toe caps will help eliminate friction between the shoe and the toe, while providing comfort and lubrication.
If these treatments are not sufficient at correcting the hammer toe, an operation to straighten the toe may be necessary. This is often performed in conjunction with surgery for a bunion deformity. The surgical treatment of a hammer toe can consist of either cutting the tendons to relieve the pressure that causes the deformity, or fusing the toe so that it points straight permanently.
Plainly put, most toe deformities are caused by footwear. If you wish to avoid bunions or hammertoes, or works towards reversing them, please choose your footwear that has a low heel, and is wide enough in the toebox to spread you toes. Your podiatrist or therapist can help with the manipulation exercises. Bunion splints are available.