A hammertoe is a deformity that causes one of your toe joints to push upwards, rather than lying flat. The condition develops when toe muscles weaken, which puts extra pressure on your toe’s tendons and joints. This excess pressure forces your toe upwards at the joint.
Hammertoes are sometimes misdiagnosed as a claw toe. Both conditions involve toe contracture at the joint, but a claw toe means that a person has joint damage at the middle and end joint of their toe, while a hammertoe only involves a bend at the middle toe joint. In addition to diagnosing your hammertoe, your doctor will also classify it as either flexible, semi-rigid or rigid. The more rigid the joint is, the more pain it will cause.
A hammertoe can develop for a variety of reasons, but the three most common causes of hammertoes are:
Genetics – The genes you get from your parents may be responsible for your hammertoe. If you have flat, flexible feet, you may be at a heightened risk for hammertoes because your foot muscles are overworked trying to stabilize against a flattening arch.
Improper Footwear – Narrow shoes are another reason people develop hammertoes. Avoid the pointy heels, and your feet will thank you. Not surprisingly, hammertoes are more common in women.
Previous Foot Condition – Hammertoes can also be the result of a neuromuscular disease or diabetes.
Treatments For Hammertoe
Ideally, you’ll take steps to prevent the formation of a hammertoe, but as you can guess, there’s not much you can do if it’s in your genes. That said, you can help prevent the formation of hammertoes by wearing wider shoes and performing foot strengthening exercises. Exercises can also help stop pain in when a hammertoe is in an early stage.
If you can’t find relief from pain caused by a hammertoe, surgery may be your best option. There are a few different surgical options you can choose. These procedures are generally preformed on an outpatient basis, meaning you can leave the clinic the same day that you have surgery.
Tendon Rerouting – This is typically preformed on individuals with a flexible hammertoe. It involves rerouting the tendons from the bottom of the toe to the top of the affected joint. This helps pull the bent joint back into place.
Joint Resectioning – This procedure can help fix rigid or semi-rigid hammertoes. Ligaments and tendons are cut, the end of the bone is removed to allow the toe to completely straighten, and pins are used to straighten the toe. The pins are usually removed after about 3-4 weeks.
Joint Fusion – The ends of the bones are addressed, and pins or screws are used to keep the bones in place while they heal fused to one another.