A Hammer toe is a deformity of the middle joint of a toe, producing a clenched, clawlike appearance in the affected digit. The tendons in the toe become abnormally contracted, causing the toe to bend downward, which, in turn, forces the joint to protrude upward. A mallet toe is a deformity in which the end joint of a toe becomes bent downward, so that the toe curls underneath itself. In either case the affected joints are stiff, and often the toe cannot be straightened out. Constant rubbing against shoes may furthermore cause a painful corn (a round patch of rough, thickened, calloused skin) to develop over the joint or at the tip of the affected toe. Hammer and mallet toes may occur in any toe, although the second toe is the most common site. These deformities are often painful and limit the toe?s range of motion-sometimes requiring surgery.
While ill-fitting shoes may contribute to a hammertoe, shoes don’t actually cause it, Hammertoes occur by the pull and stretch of the tendon. One tendon gets a more hammertoes mechanical advantage over the other and allows the deformity to occur. Not surprisingly, wearing shoes that are too tight can make a hammertoe worse. If you’re fond of narrow, pointy-toed shoes or high-heeled pumps, keep in mind you’re squeezing those toes and tendons, which may aggravate hammertoes.
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.
Some questions your doctor may ask of you include, when did you first begin having foot problems? How much pain are your feet or toes causing you? Where is the pain located? What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms? What, if anything, appears to worsen your symptoms? What kind of shoes do you normally wear? Your doctor can diagnose hammertoe or mallet toe by examining your foot. Your doctor may also order X-rays to further evaluate the bones and joints of your feet and toes.
Non Surgical Treatment
In the early stages, the deformities from mallet toe, claw toe and hammertoe can be corrected. But if treatment is delayed too long, permanent stiffness can ensue which can only be corrected by surgery. The most effective treatment options are good fitting footwear. Shoes with a wide toebox will be more comfortable and will reduce the tension on the muscles and friction on the toes. Avoid high heels as they push your feet forwards to the front of the shoes. This increases the pressure on the toes, forcing them to bend more than usual. Shoes should ideally be half an inch longer than your longest toe. Exercises to strengthen and stretch the muscles can be really helpful. Simple things like trying to pick marbles up with your feet or scrunching up a towel underneath your foot can work well.
Curative treatment of hammertoes varies depending upon the severity of the deformity. When the hammertoe is flexible, a simple tendon release in the toe works well. The recovery is rapid often requiring nothing more that a single stitch and a Band-Aid. Of course if several toes are done at the same time, the recovery make take a bit longer.