Essentially, there’s one consistent type of hammertoes, the condition in which your toes are contracted into a hammer or upside-down “V” shape. However, depending on its severity, hammertoe is characterized into two forms. Flexible hammertoe is hammertoe in which the joints of the toes are still moveable or flexible and can be treated with nonsurgical therapies. Rigid hammertoe is the more serious condition in which the joints’ muscles and tendons have lost any flexibility and the contraction cannot be corrected by nonsurgical means. As a result, surgery is generally required to deal with the problem. This is why it’s important to consult a physician as soon as the problem is recognized for the possibility of successful nonsurgical treatment.
Hammer toe may also be caused by other medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, or stroke because these forms of illnesses involve affectation of the person’s muscles and nerves. Diabetes is also a causative factor for hammer toes due to diabetic neuropathy, which often times accompanies advanced instances of diabetes. Injury to a person’s toes may also cause hammer toes, particularly if the injury involves breaking of the toes. In some instances, hammer toes may be hereditary. Some people may be genetically predisposed to develop the condition because of the natural structure of their bodies.
For some people, a hammer toe is nothing more than an unsightly deformity that detracts from the appearance of the foot. However, discomfort may develop if a corn or callus develops on the end or top of the toe. If pressure and friction continue on the end or top of the toe, a painful ulcer may develop. Discomfort or pain can lead to difficulty walking.
The exam may reveal a toe in which the near bone of the toe (proximal phalanx) is angled upward and the middle bone of the toe points in the opposite direction (plantar flexed). Toes may appear crooked or rotated. The involved joint may be painful when moved, or stiff. There may be areas of thickened skin (corns or calluses) on top of or between the toes, a callus may also be observed at the tip of the affected toe beneath the toenail. An attempt to passively correct the hammertoe deformity will help elucidate the best treatment option as the examiner determines whether the toe is still flexible or not. It is advisable to assess palpable pulses, since their presence is associated with a good prognosis for healing after surgery. X-rays will demonstrate the contractures of the involved joints, as well as possible arthritic changes and bone enlargements (exostoses, spurs). X-rays of the involved foot are usually performed in a weight-bearing position.
Non Surgical Treatment
Hammer toes may be effectively corrected in different ways. Treatments can be non-invasive and involve physical therapy along with the advice that the person not wear any more shoes that restrict appropriate space for their toes. Appropriate shoes for people who want to avoid hammer toes, or for people who already have them, should be at least half an inch longer than the person’s longest toe. High-heeled shoes are something to definitely avoid.
Toe Relocation procedures are ancillary procedures that are performed in conjunction with one of the two methods listed about (joint resection or joint mending). When the toe is deformed (buckled) at the ball of the foot, then this joint often needs to be re-positioned along with ligament releases/repair to get the toe straight. A temporary surgical rod is needed to hold the toe aligned while the ligaments mend.
The best first step you can take is to evaluate your shoe choices. Ditch any shoes that aren?t serving your feet well. Shoes that crowd the front of your foot, especially around your toes, aggravate the existing condition and can also cause the condition to develop. If you suspect the development of hammertoe, you may also try using protective pads to prevent irritation and the development of corns. Custom orthotics to correct muscle imbalances in your feet may also help prevent hammertoe.