Hammer Toes

HammertoeOverview

A Hammer toe is a deformity of the second, third or fourth toes in which the main toe joint is bent upward like a claw. Initially, hammertoes are flexible and can be corrected with simple measures. Left untreated, they can become fixed and require surgery. Hammertoe results from shoes that don?t fit properly or a muscle imbalance, usually in combination with one or more other factors. Muscles work in pairs to straighten and bend the toes. If the toe is bent and held in one position long enough, the muscles tighten and can?t stretch out.

Causes

Hammertoe commonly develops because of structural changes that take place over time in the muscles and tendons that bend the toes. People with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, are at risk for developing hammertoe. It can be an inherited condition for some people. Other causes include trauma and wearing shoes that are too tight, narrow, or have high heels. The toe next to the big toe (second toe) is most frequently affected by hammertoe.

HammertoeSymptoms

Hammer toes can cause problems with walking and lead to other foot problems, such as blisters, calluses, and sores. Pain is caused by constant friction over the top of the toe?s main joint. It may be difficult to fit into some shoe gear due to the extra space required for the deformed toe. In many cases there will be pain on the ball of the foot over the metatarsals along with callus formation. This is due to the toes not functioning properly, failing to properly touch the ground during the gait cycle. The ball of the foot then takes the brunt of the ground forces, which causes chronic pain.

Diagnosis

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 hammertoe set in and surgery is required. Orthotics are generally required post-surgically.

Non Surgical Treatment

Conservative treatment is the first choice, often starting with a change of shoes to ones that have soft, larger toe spaces. Toe exercises may be prescribed to stretch and strengthen the toe muscles. Over-the-counter straps, cushions or non-medicated corn pads may be recommended to help relieve your symptoms.

Surgical Treatment

For severe hammer toe, you will need an operation to straighten the joint. The surgery often involves cutting or moving tendons and ligaments. Sometimes the bones on each side of the joint need to be connected (fused) together. Most of the time, you will go home on the same day as the surgery. The toe may still be stiff afterward, and it may be shorter. If the condition is treated early, you can often avoid surgery. Treatment will reduce pain and walking difficulty.

HammertoePrevention

Certain exercises such as moving and stretching your toe gently with your hands and picking up small or soft objects such as marbles or towels can keep your toe joints flexible, simple exercises can stretch and strengthen your muscles. Limit high-heel use, well-designed flat shoes will be more comfortable than high heels. Don't wear shoes that are too short or too narrow, or too shallow, this is especially important for children going through periods of rapid growth, the toe area should be high enough so that it doesn't rub against the top of your toes.

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