A hammertoe is a toe that is contracted at the PIP joint (middle joint in the toe), potentially leading to severe pressure and pain. Ligaments and tendons that have tightened cause the toe’s joints to curl downwards. Hammer toes may occur in any toe except the big toe. There is often discomfort at the top part of the toe due to rubbing against the shoe.
Hammertoes are a contracture of the toes as a result of a muscle imbalance between the tendons on the top of the toes (extensor tendons) and the tendons on the bottom of the toes (flexor tendons). If there is an imbalance in the foot muscles that stabilize the toe, the smaller muscles can be overpowered by the larger flexor and extensor muscles.
Symptoms of a hammertoe are usually first noticed as a corn on the top of the toe or at the tip which produces pain with walking or wearing tight shoes. Most people feel a corn is due to a skin problem on their toes, which in fact, it is protecting the underlying bone deformity. A corn on the toe is sometimes referred to as a heloma dura or heloma durum, meaning hard corn. This is most common at the level of the affected joint due to continuous friction of the deformity against your shoes.
The exam may reveal a toe in which the near bone of the toe (proximal phalanx) is angled upward and the middle bone of the toe points in the opposite direction (plantar flexed). Toes may appear crooked or rotated. The involved joint may be painful when moved, or stiff. There may be areas of thickened skin (corns or calluses) on top of or between the toes, a callus may also be observed at the tip of the affected toe beneath the toenail. An attempt to passively correct the deformity will help elucidate the best treatment option as the examiner determines whether the toe is still flexible or not. It is advisable to assess palpable pulses, since their presence is associated with a good prognosis for healing after surgery. X-rays will demonstrate the contractures of the involved joints, as well as possible arthritic changes and bone enlargements (exostoses, spurs). X-rays of the involved foot are usually performed in a weight-bearing position.
Non Surgical Treatment
Podiatric Care may include using anti-inflammatory oral medications or an injection of medication and local anesthetic to reduce this swelling. When you go to your doctor, x-rays are usually required to evaluate the structure of your foot, check for fractures and determine the cause. The podiatrist may see you to take care of any corns that develop due to the bone deformities. They may advise you on different shoewear or prescribe a custom made orthotic to try and control the foot structure. Padding techniques may be used to straighten the toe if the deformity is flexible, or pads may Hammer toe be used to lessen the pressure on the area of the corn or ulcer. Your podiatric physician may also recommend a surgical procedure to actually fix the structural problem of your foot.
Surgery to correct for a hammertoe may be performed as a day procedure. There are several different types of procedures that can be used depending on the foot structure and if the deformity is flexible or rigid.
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.