Hammertoes are quite common and may range from mild to severe. A Hammer toe is a contracture, or bending, of one or more toes, usually due to an imbalance between the muscles or tendons on the top and bottom of the toes. Over time, the affected toes lose flexibility, becoming rigid and fixed in a contracted position. The abnormal bend positions the knuckle of the toe upward, causing it to push against the top of the shoe leading to additional problems. The condition usually becomes progressively worse if not treated.
Hammertoes are usually structural in nature. Many times this is the foot structure you were born with and other factors have now made it so that symptoms appear. The muscles in your foot may become unbalanced over time, allowing for a deformity of the small bones in each toe. With longstanding deformity the toe may become rigid. Sometimes one toe is longer than another and this causes a buckling of the digit. A hammertoe may also be caused by other foot deformities such as a bunion. Trauma or other surgery of your foot may predispose you to having the condition if your foot structure is altered.
At first, a hammertoe or mallet toe may maintain its flexibility and lie flat when you're not wearing crowded footwear. But eventually, the tendons of the toe may contract and tighten, causing your toe to become permanently stiff. Your shoes can rub against the raised portion of the toe or toes, causing painful corns or calluses.
The earlier a hammertoe is diagnosed, the better the prognosis and treatment options. Your doctor will be able to diagnose your hammertoe with a simple examination of the foot and your footwear. He or she may take an x-ray to check the severity of the condition. You may also be asked about your symptoms, your normal daily activities, and your medical and family history.
Non Surgical Treatment
Non-surgical methods for hammer toes (claw toes) are aimed at decreasing symptoms (i.e., pain and/or calluses) and/or limiting the progression into a larger problem. Simple treatments patients can do are wear supportive shoes. Use an arch support. Wear shoes with a wide toe box. Modify activities. Spot stretch shoes. Periodic callus care.
Joint resection procedures involves removing part of one of the two small joints of the toe directly underneath where the digit is crooked. The purpose is to make room for the toe to be re-positioned flat or straight. Because hammer toes become rigid or fixed with time, removing the joint becomes the only option when the knuckle is stiff. Its important to understand that this procedure does not involve the joint of the ball of the foot, rather the a small joint of the toe. Medical terminology for this procedure is called a proximal interphalangeal joint arthroplasty or a distal interphalangeal joint arthroplasty, with the latter involving the joint closer hammertoe to the tip of the toe.