A hammer toe is considered a deformity that is caused by your toe bending or curling downward instead of pointing forward. Any toe on your foot can be affected; however, typically the second and third toes are involved. It is possible for a hammer toe to be present at birth, but it typically develops over time due to arthritis or wearing poorly fitting shoes. A hammer toe can cause a great deal of discomfort, but in most cases they are treatable.
Each toe contains two joints that allow it to bend at the middle and bottom. When the middle joint becomes dislocated, a hammer toe develops. Common causes of joint dislocation include the following:
• Injury to the toe
• High foot arch
• Poorly fit shoes
• Tightened tendons or ligaments in your foot
• Pressure from a bunion
Symptoms associated with a hammer toe can vary from mild to severe. Commonly, those affected experience discomfort when attempting to move or stretch the affected toe or those around it and while walking.
• Toe that is bent downward
• Calluses or corns
• Claw-like toes
• Difficulty in walking
• Inability to wiggle your toes or flex foot
A hammer toe can be prevented by wearing properly fitting shoes. It is recommended that you visit a local shoe store to have the length and width of your foot measured if your shoes fit too snug.
Wearing shoes with a heel over two inches can increase pressure on your toes, causing them to bend. High heels can also cause the formation of a high arch or corns. It is recommended to wear shoes with a heel that is two inches or less.
Tips to Relieve Pain and Discomfort
Whether you are just noticing the first symptoms of a hammer toe or are awaiting a visit with your physician, the following measures can be taken to relieve your symptoms:
• Wear shoes with a wide toe box. Keep in mind there should be at least one-half inch of space between the tip of your shoe and your longest toe.
• Avoid heels that are over two inches.
• Be sure your footwear is appropriate for your activity.
• Purchase commercial, non-medicated hammer toe pads to help relieve painful pressure. Some have the option for a gel lining that can prevent toe irritation caused by the shoe.
• Relieve pain by gently massaging the toe.
• Apply ice packs as needed to reduce painful swelling.
The treatment for hammer toe is dependent upon the severity of your symptoms. Several options are available for safe and effective treatment and include:
• Use of properly fitting shoes to pad any prominent areas surrounding the bony point of the toe to aid in pain relief.
• Certain medications may be prescribed to decrease inflammation, pain and swelling. At times, a physician may use cortisone injections to provide relief of acute pain.
• Custom-made inserts can be inserted into your shoes, which are developed under the guidance of a podiatrist. The inserts can prevent worsening of a hammer toe and decrease pain.
• Your physician may recommend specific foot exercises to help restore muscle balance. In very early stages, splinting of the affected toe may be helpful.
• If suggested treatment options have been unsuccessful your physician may recommend a surgical intervention. There are several surgical techniques that can be used to treat hammer toes and they are typically performed in an out-patient surgery center.
• In cases that are less severe and don’t require an advanced surgical treatment, your physician may choose to remove a small piece of bone at the affected joint and realign your toe.