A hammertoe is commonly mistaken as any type of toe deformity. The terms claw toe, or mallet toe, although technically different than a hammer toe, are commonly referred as such. The toe may be flexible with movement at the joints, or it may be rigid, especially if it has been present for a long time. With a true hammertoe the deformity exists at the proximal interphalangeal joint only.
It?s thought that hammertoe may develop from wearing shoes that are too narrow or too short. This probably explains why women are far more prone to the condition than men: almost 9 out of 10 women wear shoes that are too small. Another cause is diabetes mellitus, which produces nerve damage in the feet that may lead to hammer toe.
A soft corn, or heloma molle, may exist in the web space between toes. This is more commonly caused by an exostosis, which is basically an extra growth of bone possibly due to your foot structure. As this outgrowth of excessive bone rubs against other toes, there is friction between the toes and a corn forms for your protection.
Although hammertoes are readily apparent, to arrive at a diagnosis the foot and ankle surgeon will obtain a thorough history of your symptoms and examine your foot. During the physical examination, the doctor may hammertoes attempt to reproduce your symptoms by manipulating your foot and will study the contractures of the toes. In addition, the foot and ankle surgeon may take x-rays to determine the degree of the deformities and assess any changes that may have occurred.
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.
If these non-invasive treatments don?t work, or if the joint is rigid, a doctor?s only recourse may be to perform surgery. During the surgery, the doctor makes an incision and cuts the tendon to release it or moves the tendon away from or around the joint. Sometimes part of the joint needs to be removed or the joint needs to be fused. Each surgery is different in terms of what is needed to treat the hammertoe. Normally after any foot surgery, patients use a surgical shoe for four to six weeks, but often the recovery from hammertoe surgery is more rapid than that. An unfortunate reality is that hammertoe can actually return even after surgery if a patient continues to make choices that will aggravate the situation. Though doctors usually explain pretty clearly what needs to be done to avoid this.
Daily modifications and correct shoe choices can prevent and slow the progression of hammertoe deformities. The main cause in hammertoe deformities is muscle/tendon dysfunction. Wearing of ill-fitting, tight, high heeled shoes contributes to the progression to hammertoe deformities. Also, bunion conditions can enhance the formation of hammertoes. A key to prevention of hammertoes is the wearing of correct footwear, specifically shoes with appropriate support and a deep, wide toe box.