Typically affecting women more than men, hammertoe is so-named because it causes the middle joint of the toe to abnormally bend. It’s a condition related to muscles and tendons that have weakened to the point where the affected toe curls or bends under the foot. It can be run in families, or it may be caused, in part, by consistently wearing shoes that are too short or tight. It’s a treatable condition that produces the symptoms discussed below.
The most obvious symptom associated with hammertoe is a toe that is bent downward that cannot be voluntarily straightened with normal efforts. The affected toe could also be “hooked” onto an adjustment toe because of the way the toe joint is bent.
Noticeable Toe Pain
Over time, the affected toe may become painful. This is more likely to be the case when wearing shoes, walking, playing sports, or doing other activities that involve regular or repetitious foot/toe movements.
Corns and Calluses
The middle joint of the toe that’s affected sometimes develops corns and/or calluses. These are hardened layers of skin that may form because of the friction caused by the abnormally bent toe. They usually form on top of the affected toe, but they do tend to go away once hammertoe is successfully managed or treated.
Another common characteristic of hammertoe is noticeable swelling or inflammation. If the swelling is severe, it can cause increased pain and affect mobility along with the ability to comfortably walk or wear shoes. Related symptoms include redness and burning sensations. Because this type of irritation can be made worse anytime shoes are worn, it tends to be fairly consistent until treatment is sought.
If hammertoe is severe, it may produce open sores on the affected toe. This can be especially dangerous since open sores are more likely to become infected. If not treated, the resulting infection could contribute to serious issues affecting the skin and soft tissue.
A diagnosis is often made with a visual exam of the foot, although an X-ray may be ordered to check the joints and bones of the foot. Many patients wonder how to fix hammertoe once it is diagnosed. Treatment will depend on how flexible the affected toe is. Some patients respond well to cortisone injections to manage pain and the use of specialized footwear or shoe inserts, while others are advised to do exercises to strengthen their toe muscles and tendons. In some instances, surgery is necessary to restore correct alignment if the affected toe is too rigid.