The foot and toes make up a complex system of opposing forces all working together to create a delicate balance that forms a normal foot. When these forces are thrown out of balance, painful foot deformities such as a hammertoe can result.
What is a Hammertoe?
A hammertoe is a condition where the toe curls down, causing the joints to stick up and the tip of the toe to point down. This causes the top of the joints and tip of the toe to rub against shoes, often causing painful calluses to develop.
A normal toe stays straight because of opposing muscles, ligaments and tendons. Specifically, the flexor and extensor muscles work against each other to keep the toe straight and to bend it up and down.
With tight fitting shoes or shoes that push the toes against the foot, the flexor muscles are contracted while the extensor muscles are stretched. When kept in this position for long periods of time, they tend to stay that way and it becomes difficult for the toes to straighten on their own.
When toes are forced into this position over extended periods of time, hammertoe might develop.
When hammertoe first develops, the toe is still flexible and can be straightened by hand. The toe also remains operational. At this early stage, the condition can be treated at home. Self-treatment may or may not be effective.
Signs of a Hammertoe
- a toe that bends downward
- corns or calluses
- difficulty walking
- inability to flex your foot or wiggle your toes
- claw-like toes
Simple daily exercises include straightening the toes manually and grasping things with the toes. If possible, focus on raising and lowering your toes many times throughout the day.
As the hammertoe progresses, the joints stiffen, making it harder to straighten the toe by any means. If this is the case, the only way to fix them might be thru surgery.
Hammertoe gets worse over time. If you think you might have it, see your doctor right away. The sooner it is treated, the easier it is to treat, so nip that hammertoe in the bud.
How do you fix a Hammertoe?
There are different types of surgical procedures to fix hammertoe. Some surgeries remove part of the affected joints in order to allow the toe to straighten. Others remove the entire joint and use a pin to keep the toe straight and in place. For severe stiffness, the base of the bone under the main toe joint can be removed in order to allow proper positioning. In some cases, the tendons under the toe are moved to the top of the toe, which allows re-straightening. Tendon relocation can be done in conjunction with other procedures. Another procedure includes shortening the metatarsal bone that is connected to the affected toe.
The best prevention is proper footwear. Don’t wear shoes that squash the toes. Give them plenty of room while keeping them well supported by your footwear. Wearing practical, comfortable shoes is the best way to prevent hammertoe.