The smallest four toes of each foot have three bony segments connected by two joints, just as the fingers do. Hammer toes is a deformity in which one or more of the small toes develops a bend at the joint between the first and second segments so that the tip of the toe turns downward, making it looks like a hammer or claw. The second toe is affected most often.
Many people develop hammertoe because they wear shoes that are too tight. Shoes with narrow toe boxes squeeze the toes together, forcing some to bend. This causes the toe muscles to contract. If the toes are forced into this cramped position too often, the muscles may permanently tighten, preventing the toes from extending. Chronic hammertoe can also cause the long bones that connect the toes to the foot, called metatarsals, to move out of position. The misaligned metatarsal bones may pinch a nerve running between them, which can cause a type of nerve irritation called a neuroma.
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 treatment options Hammer toe vary with the type and severity of each hammer toe, although identifying the deformity early in its development is important to avoid surgery. Your podiatric physician will examine and X-ray the affected area and recommend a treatment plan specific to your condition.
Non Surgical Treatment
Hammer toes may be effectively corrected in different ways. Treatments can be non-invasive and involve physical therapy along with the advice that the person not wear any more shoes that restrict appropriate space for their toes. Appropriate shoes for people who want to avoid hammer toes, or for people who already have them, should be at least half an inch longer than the person's longest toe. High-heeled shoes are something to definitely avoid.
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.
Avoid wearing shoes that are too short or narrow. Check children's shoe sizes often, especially during periods of fast growth. If you have hammer toe, call for an appointment with your health care provider. If you develop thick blisters or corns on your toes, if your pain gets worse, if you have difficulty walking call for an appointment with your health care provider.