Lorena Bautz

The Globe's Premier Foot Blog

Hammer Toe Treatment Options

Hammer ToeOverview

Generally a hammertoe or mallet toe is caused by wearing high heels or shoes that are too small around the toe area, so it?s no surprise that it is mostly women who suffer from them. A Hammer toes has a bend in the middle joint of the toe whereas a mallet toe has a bend in the upper joint of the affected toe. The way someone walks (gait) can also lead to the formation of hammertoes and mallet toes as can overuse and injury. Sometimes a deep blister will form over the bent joint and often after some time calluses and corns will develop on the affected toe joint. People with arthritis, diabetes or neuromuscular conditions are also more likely to develop a hammer toe or mallet toe.

Causes

Factors that may increase you risk of hammertoe and mallet toe include age. The risk of hammertoe and mallet toe increases with age. Your sex. Women are much more likely to develop hammertoe or mallet toe than are men. Toe length. If your second toe is longer than your big toe, it's at higher risk of hammertoe or mallet toe.

Hammer ToeSymptoms

If the toes remain in the hammertoe position for long periods, the tendons on the top of the foot will tighten over time because they are not stretched to their full length. Eventually, the tendons shorten enough that the toe stays bent, even when shoes are not being worn. The symptoms of hammertoe include a curling toe, pain or discomfort in the toes and ball of the foot or the front of the leg, especially when toes are stretched downward, thickening of the skin above or below the affected toe with the formation of corns or calluses, difficulty finding shoes that fit well. In its early stages, hammertoe is not obvious. Frequently, hammertoe does not cause any symptoms except for the claw-like toe shape.

Diagnosis

Although hammertoes are readily apparent, to arrive at a diagnosis the foot and ankle surgeon will obtain a thorough history of your symptoms and examine your foot. During the physical examination, the doctor may attempt Hammer toes to reproduce your symptoms by manipulating your foot and will study the contractures of the toes. In addition, the foot and ankle surgeon may take x-rays to determine the degree of the deformities and assess any changes that may have occurred.

Non Surgical Treatment

There are many non-surgical treatments to help relieve symptoms of hammertoe. The first step for many people is wearing the right size and type of shoe. Low-heeled shoes with a boxy or roomy toe area are helpful. Cushioned insoles, customized orthopedic inserts, and pads can provided relief as well. Splints or straps may be used to help correct toe position. Your doctor may show you toe stretches and exercises to perform. Your doctor can safely remove corns and calluses. You should not try to remove them at home.

Surgical Treatment

Surgery is used when other types of treatment fail to relieve symptoms or for advanced cases of hammertoe. There are several types of surgeries to treat hammertoe. A small piece of bone may be removed from the joint (arthroplasty). The toe joint may be fused to straighten it (arthrodesis). Surgical hardware, such as a pin, may be used to hold the bones in place while they heal. Other types of surgery involve removing skin (wedging) or correcting muscles and tendons to balance the joint.

Hammer ToePrevention

Prevention of a hammertoe can be difficult as symptoms do not arise until the problem exists. Wearing shoes that have extra room in the toes may eliminate the problem or slow down the deformity from getting worse. Sometimes surgery is recommended for the condition. If the area is irritated with redness, swelling, and pain some ice and anti-inflammatory medications may be helpful. The best prevention may be to get advice from your podiatrist.
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