A hammertoe is a term used to describe a crooked, deviated, or contracted toe. Although the condition usually stems from muscle imbalance, it is often aggravated by poor-fitting shoes or socks that cramp the toes. Over a period of years, the tendons that move the toe up and down begin to pull the toe with unequal tension, and the toe then begins to buckle or become contracted, causing an abnormal "v"-shaped bending of the little toes. Patients with this condition often experience pain, swelling, redness and stiffness in the affected toes.
Hammer toe is commonly caused by wearing shoes that are too narrow, tight or short on a regular basis. By doing so, your toe joints are forced into odd position. Over time, the tendons and muscles in your toe become shorter and cause it to hammertoe bend. You can suffer a hammer toe if you have diabetes and the disease is worsening. If this occurs, you should contact your doctor right away. Arthritis can also cause hammer toes. Because your toe muscles get out of balance when you suffer from this joint disorder, tendons and joints of your toes are going to experience a lot of pressure.
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.
First push up on the bottom of the metatarsal head associated with the affected toe and see if the toe straightens out. If it does, then an orthotic could correct the problem, usually with a metatarsal pad. If the toe does not straighten out when the metatarsal head is pushed up, then that indicates that contracture in the capsule and ligaments (capsule contracts because the joint was in the wrong position for too long) of the MTP joint has set in and surgery is required. Orthotics are generally required post-surgically.
Non Surgical Treatment
Your doctor may prescribe some toe exercises that you can do at home to stretch and strengthen the muscles. For example, you can gently stretch the toes manually. You can use your toes to pick things up off the floor. While you watch television or read, you can put a towel flat under your feet and use your toes to crumple it. Finally, your doctor may recommend that you use commercially available straps, cushions or nonmedicated corn pads to relieve symptoms. If you have diabetes, poor circulation or a lack of feeling in your feet, talk to your doctor before attempting any self-treatment.
Treatment of a severe hammertoe that has become rigid includes surgery. What is done during the surgery depends on how misshapen and inflexible the toe is. The surgeon may make a cut over your toe and release the tendon by cutting the tendon away from the bone. The surgeon may remove a small piece of bone from the toe. The surgeon may realign the tendons to reposition your toe or fasten the bones with pins. Sometimes the surgeon may have to join the bones in the toe. In this case, you will no longer be able to bend the toe, but the toe will be flat.
Daily modifications and correct shoe choices can prevent and slow the progression of hammertoe deformities. The main cause in hammertoe deformities is muscle/tendon dysfunction. Wearing of ill-fitting, tight, high heeled shoes contributes to the progression to hammertoe deformities. Also, bunion conditions can enhance the formation of hammertoes. A key to prevention of hammertoes is the wearing of correct footwear, specifically shoes with appropriate support and a deep, wide toe box.