A hammertoe is a term used to describe a crooked, deviated, or contracted toe. Although the condition usually stems from muscle imbalance, it is often aggravated by poor-fitting shoes or socks that cramp the toes. Over a period of years, the tendons that move the toe up and down begin to pull the toe with unequal tension, and the toe then begins to buckle or become contracted, causing an abnormal “v”-shaped bending of the little toes. Patients with this condition often experience pain, swelling, redness and stiffness in the affected toes.
Some causes of hammertoe are shoes that are too tight or short, shoes with high heels, injury, Diseases that affect the nerves and muscles, such as arthritis and diabetes. When shoes do not fit well, over time the pressure of the shoes pushes the toes into a bent position. After a while, the muscles become unable to straighten the toe, even when you are not wearing shoes. Similarly, when there is damage or disease of the nerves or muscles in the toes, the toe may rest in the bent position until the tendons become permanently shortened and the toe becomes a rigid hammertoe. The risk of developing a hammertoe increases with age. Women are much more likely to develop a hammertoe than men.
A toe (usually the second digit, next to the big toe) bent at the middle joint and clenched into a painful, clawlike position. As the toe points downward, the middle joint may protrude upward. A toe with an end joint that curls under itself. Painful calluses or corns. Redness or a painful corn on top of the bent joint or at the tip of the affected toe, because of persistent rubbing against shoes Pain in the toes that interferes with walking, jogging, dancing, and other normal activities, possibly leading to gait changes.
First push up on the bottom of the metatarsal head associated with the affected toe and see if the toe straightens out. If it does, then an orthotic could correct the problem, usually with a metatarsal pad. If the toe does not straighten out when the metatarsal head is pushed up, then that indicates that contracture in the capsule and ligaments (capsule contracts because the joint was in the wrong position for too long) of the MTP joint has set in and surgery is required. Orthotics are generally required post-surgically.
Non Surgical Treatment
Podiatric Care may include using anti-inflammatory oral medications or an injection of medication and local anesthetic to reduce this swelling. When you go to your doctor, x-rays are usually required to evaluate the structure of your foot, check for fractures and determine the cause. The podiatrist may see you to take care of any corns that develop due to the bone deformities. They may advise you on different shoewear or prescribe a custom made orthotic to try and control the foot structure. Padding techniques may be used to straighten the toe if the deformity is flexible, or pads may be used to lessen the pressure on the area of the corn or ulcer. Your podiatric physician may also hammertoe recommend a surgical procedure to actually fix the structural problem of your foot.
For the surgical correction of a rigid hammertoe, the surgical procedure consists of removing the damaged skin where the corn is located. Then a small section of bone is removed at the level of the rigid joint. The sutures remain in place for approximately ten days. During this period of time it is important to keep the area dry. Most surgeons prefer to leave the bandage in place until the patient’s follow-up visit, so there is no need for the patient to change the bandages at home. The patient is returned to a stiff-soled walking shoe in about two weeks. It is important to try and stay off the foot as much as possible during this time. Excessive swelling of the toe is the most common patient complaint. In severe cases of hammertoe deformity a pin may be required to hold the toe in place and the surgeon may elect to fuse the bones in the toe. This requires several weeks of recovery.