Hammer toe is defined as a deformity in the toe where part of the toe is permanently bent downward resembling a hammer. Two related conditions are mallet toe and claw toe which effect different toe joints in slightly different ways. The key difference is that Hammer toes tends to effect the middle joint in the toe (note: not the middle toe, the middle toe joint). The disease is usually associated with the second largest toe but can effect the third or fourth toe as well. Mallet toe effects the uppermost toe joint whereas claw toe is caused by the tow being held in a cramped ?claw-like? position.
Footwear can contribute significantly to the development of hammertoes. Shoes that are too small force your toes into a curled position. Over time, your toe tendons adjust to this positioning, causing your toe or toes to hold a hammered shape. Athletes may be especially susceptible, because of the increased forces on the toes from shoes that are too small or tight. Heel elevation in footwear is also problematic, as it causes your toes to be pushed into the shoe?s toe box. Heel elevation additionally contributes to muscle imbalance. A common example of this is when your Achilles tendon-the tendon at the back of your leg that attaches your calf muscles to your heel bone-is too tight, causing the tendons on the top of your foot that attach to your toes to work too hard and hold your toes in an unnatural, elevated position.
If you have any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to hammer toe. Talk to your doctor about symptoms such as a toe that curls down, corns on the top of a toe, calluses on the sole of the foot or bottom of the toe, pain in the middle joint of a toe, discomfort on the top of a toe, difficulty finding any shoes that fit comfortably, cramping in a toe, and sometimes Hammer toes also the foot and leg, difficult or painful motion of a toe joint, pain in the ball of the foot or at the base of a toe.
Your healthcare provider will examine your foot, checking for redness, swelling, corns, and calluses. Your provider will also measure the flexibility of your toes and test how much feeling you have in your toes. You may have blood tests to check for arthritis, diabetes, and infection.
Non Surgical Treatment
If the toes are still mobile enough that they are able to stretch out and lay flat, the doctor will likely suggest a change of footwear. In addition, she may choose to treat the pain that may result from the condition. The doctor may prescribe pads to ease the pain of any corns and calluses, and medications ranging from ibuprofen to steroid injections for the inflammation and pain. Other options for non-surgical treatments include orthotic devices to help with the tendon and muscle imbalance or splinting to help realign the toe. Splinting devices come in a variety of shapes and sizes but the purpose of each is the same: to stretch the muscles and tendon and flatten the joint to remove the pain and pressure that comes from corns.
Ordinary hammertoe procedures often use exposed wires which extend outside the end of toes for 4-6 weeks. Common problems associated with wires include infection where the wires come out of the toe, breakage, pain from hitting the wire, and lack of rotational stability causing the toe to look crooked. In addition, wires require a second in-office procedure to remove them, which can cause a lot of anxiety for many patients. Once inserted, implants remain within the bone, correcting the pain and deformity of hammertoes while eliminating many of the complications specific traditional treatments.
As long as hammertoe causes no pain or any change in your walking or running gait, it isn?t harmful and doesn't require treatment. The key to prevention is to wear shoes that fit you properly and provide plenty of room for your toes.