By Barbara Hales, M.D.
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Image of feet related to Hammertoe problems

What Is A Hammertoe?

A hammertoe is an abnormality causing your toe to curl downward instead of straight ahead due to a muscle and ligament imbalance surrounding the toe joint. While any toe can be affected, it typically affects the second or third toe. Hammertoe generally manifests over time from arthritis or poorly fitting shoes.

The most common symptom is irritation and rubbing on the top of the bent toe. Ulcers may form here.

There are two types of hammertoes:

  1. Flexible hammertoes: the toe is able to move at the joint (milder form)
  2. Rigid hammertoes: toe tendons are rigid, putting pressure on the joint to move out of proper alignment so that the toe is “frozen” and can’t move.

Though hammertoes are diagnosed by a physical exam, X-rays may be needed if an injury to bone, muscle or ligament in the toe has occurred.

Cause Of Hammertoe

Muscle imbalance of the toes exerts pressure on tendons and joins causing a downward misshaped toe.

The middle toe joint flexes downward from:

  • Arthritis
  • Trauma
  • Ill-fitting shoes
  • Exertion on the toe from a bunion
  • High foot arch
  • Tightened tendons or ligaments of the foot

Nerve damage may also cause your toes to curl in a downward position.

Treatment Options You Can Do On Your Own

You can treat your hammertoe by wearing properly fitting shoes having a wide toe-box or high and broad across the toes. Have a minimum of one-half inch of space between the tip of the shoe and your longest toe. Don’t wear heels greater than 2 inches high.

If a high arch is present, wear toe pads or insoles to change the position of the toe for pain relief. Cushions and pads may be obtained from the drugstore for bunions and corns. Stretching toes can reposition them and cause pain relief as well.

What Are The Professional Treatment Options For Hammertoes?

If cushions, pads and stretching does not alleviate pain and toe flexion is no longer possible, surgery is advised to restore motion, reposition the toe, remove the deformity and reposition tendons and joins.

What Can I Expect After Treatment?

Nonsurgical treatment options include:

  • Anti inflammatory drugs
  • Cortisone injections to alleviate pain
  • Foot exercises for muscle balance.
  • Splinting the toe

Surgical treatment of the hammertoe usually eradicates the problem. However if medical or surgical care is delayed for a prolonged time, the surrounding toes may become affected and deformed as well.

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