A hammertoe is an abnormally crooked, contracted toe that takes the shape of an inverted "V." This condition develops when a muscle or tendon imbalance causes the toe to buckle and eventually become stuck in a bent position. Hammertoes may occur for a number of reasons, including hereditary abnormalities, rheumatoid arthritis, traumatic injury, or the wearing of poorly fitted or high-heeled shoes.
Risk Factors for Hammertoes
Individuals with poor circulation or nerve damage in their feet, such as diabetics, stroke survivors, or those with peripheral artery disease, are more at risk for hammertoes than the general population. Women are more prone to hammertoes than men, presumably because they wear less comfortable shoes with smaller toe boxes. Other risk factors for hammertoes include increasing age and having a second toe longer than the big toe.
Symptoms of Hammertoes
A patient with a hammertoe may experience pain, swelling, redness and stiffness in the affected toe, usually the toe next to the big toe. It may be difficult or painful to move the hammertoe and it is common for patients to develop corns and calluses as a result of the condition since deformed toes are more likely to be impacted by shoes.
Treatment of Hammertoes
Treatment for hammertoes depends on the severity of the condition, but simple measures like wearing roomier shoes, custom orthotics or padded inserts to relieve pressure or taking anti-inflammatory medication to relieve pain may provide relief. Certain exercises to stretch and strengthen the feet and toes may also be helpful. Toes may also be taped to correct their position and sometimes corticosteroid injections are administered to alleviate swelling and pain. Only when hammertoes are severe is surgery recommended.
When necessary, such surgery may be performed one of three ways: removing a small section of bone from the affected joint (arthroplasty), releasing the tendon that is keeping the toe from lying flat, or fusing the bones of the affected joint to keep the toe straight. Fusion surgery requires the use of a metal pin to hold the toe in position as it heals. Recovery may take up to 3 months during which time the patient is required to wear comfortable shoes and to do some rehabilitative exercises.