What is a hammer toe?
Hammer toe is a contracture or a deformity of the toes, it is a common foot problem where in the joint of the toes curl inwards instead of it pointing forward due to the imbalance of the ligaments, muscles and tendons surrounding the toes causing the toe to bend inwards. Many of us might not notice it but overtime we slowly develop hammer toes especially women. Unlike most popular beliefs - hammer toes are not always hereditary some are acquired over time.
Photo taken from cdafootankle.com
What causes a hammer toe to form?
- Arthritis/ diabetes and other certain diseases
High foot arch - Those with high arches can also form hammer toes as the extensor tendons overpower the flexors.
Wearing ill-fitting shoes - Women tend to buy narrow, ill-fitting shoes with little to no arch support - That is why we see more hammer toes in women than men.
Tightened ligaments or tendons in the foot - This can be developed over time or it can be hereditary
Pressure from a bunion - a hammer toe may occur when the big toe leans towards the second toe forcing the rest of the toes to compromise.
Age - the older a person gets the more they become prone to hammer toes and other diseases
Sex - women are more prone to developing hammer toes than men
Toe length - if the second toe is longer than the big toe - most likely, they are at risk of developing a hammer toe.
Certain diseases - diseases like arthritis and diabetes make you prone to developing foot deformities.
At first, a hammertoe or mallet toe might maintain its flexibility. But eventually, if left untreated, the tendons of the toe can contract and tighten, causing your toe to become permanently bent. Your shoes can rub against the raised portion of the toe or toes, causing painful corns or calluses.
Signs and Symptoms
Hammer toes or mallet toes are unusual bents in the joints of your toe/s. A hammer toe or mallet toe is an abnormal deformity on the joints of your toes. Moving the affected toe may be difficult or painful. Your toe joints will form corns and calluses - a result from friction and toe rubbing against the inside of your shoes.
Your doctor can diagnose hammertoe or mallet toe by examining your foot. Your doctor might order X-rays to further evaluate the bones and joints of your feet and toes.
Hammer Toe Treatment
If your toe is still flexible, your doctor might recommend that you change to roomier, more comfortable footwear and that you wear shoe inserts (orthotics) or pads. Inserts or pads can reposition your toe and relieve pressure and pain.
Treatment to mild Hammer Toe
Toe exercises - picking up marbles using your toes or crumpling a towel with your toes would be a great exercise to strengthen your toe muscles.
Toe and foot accessories - Investing in good shoe inserts or pads can help reposition your toe and relieve pressure and pain. It is also good to invest on toe stretchers/toe spacers and toe correctors.
Medical authorities recommend exercising feet to improve circulation as part of regular foot care. You may find that a toe stretcher or separator helps tremendously. More and more people are improving their overall foot health using toe massagers, an affordable foot fitness option to promote circulation and restore alignment.
If you wish to purchase one you may click here.
Treatment to Severe Hammer Toe
If conservative treatments don't help, your doctor might recommend surgery to release the tendon that's preventing your toe from lying flat. In some cases, the surgeon also might remove a piece of bone to straighten your toes.
Treatment Reference: Orthopedic Surgery Research
You can avoid many foot, heel and ankle problems with shoes that fit properly. Here's what to look for when buying shoes:
Adequate toe room - Avoid shoes with pointed toes
Low heels - Avoiding high heeled shoes will prevent your foot from sliding towards the toe cap of your shoes - causing your toes to curl into a ball when it hits the shoe's toe cap/ toe box. Wearing low heeled shoes prevents pressure on the toes.
Adjustability - Laced or strapped shoes are roomier and adjustable.
How can I avoid getting a hammer toe?
Wear sensible shoes - Wear proper shoes with wider and deeper toe box to accommodate your foot's shape. Pick a shoe with a good arch support but if you can't find a shoe with a good arch support then invest on arch support pads.
Do foot exercises - Exercises like extending, then curling the toes, splaying the toes, and moving the toes individually may help prevent the digital contracture that causes hammer toe.
Simple exercise can help treat and prevent hammer toes and there are proven toe straighteners/correctors that are available in the market that you can take advantage with but if all else fails it is best to schedule an appointment with a highly skilled orthopedic surgeon.