The term, Hammer toes, is commonly used as a general classification for any condition where the toe muscle weakens, causing digital contracture, and resulting in deformity, a digital contracture like this can actually be a hammertoe, claw toe or mallet toe, depending on which joints in the toe are contracted. Clawtoes are bent at the middle and end joints, while hammertoes are bent at the hammertoe middle joint only. When it?s mallet toe, the joint at the end of the toe buckles. The skin near the toenail tip develops a painful corn that can eventually result in an ulcer. Doctors further categorize all forms of hammertoe based on whether the affected toe is flexible, semi-rigid or rigid. The more rigid the toe, the more pain it will cause.
Though hammer toes are principally hereditary, several other factors can contribute to the deformity. Most prevalent is an imbalance of the muscles and tendons that control the motion of the toe. When the tendon that pulls the toe upward is not as strong as the one that pulls it downward there is a disparity of power. This forces the toe to buckle and gradually become deformed. If the it persists, the toe can become rigid and harder to correct.
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.
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
If your toe is still flexible, your doctor may recommend that you change to roomier and more comfortable footwear and that you wear shoe inserts (orthotics) or pads. Wearing inserts or pads can reposition your toe and relieve pressure and pain. In addition, your doctor may suggest exercises to stretch and strengthen your toe muscles. These may include picking up marbles or a thin towel off the floor with your toes.
Surgery involves removing a small section of bone from the affected joint through a procedure called arthroplasty. Arthrodesis may also be performed to treat hammertoes, which involves fusing together one of the joints in the toe in order to keep it straight. This procedure requires the use of a metal pin to hold the toe in position while it heals.
Although there is little doubt shoes are responsible for causing corns, the size, shape and other characteristics of our feet are hereditary. A severe bunion may cause a hammertoe, as the great toe twists over or under the second toe, causing it to dislocate.