The name hammertoes comes from the way the tip of the toe hits or hammers on the floor with each step. The primary deformity seen in a hammer toe is found at the PIPJ (proximal interphalangeal joint) which is the first or more proximal of the two joints of the toe. A mallet toe, on the other hand, is a similar deformity but is found in the DIPJ (distal interphalangeal joint). And lastly, claw toes are a deformity where the entire toe grabs and involves the MPJ (metatarsal phalangeal joint) PIPJ and DIPJ. Collectively, these deformities are referred to as hammer toes. Hammer toes can affect one or all of the toes simultaneously.
The constant pressure a woman's foot receives in high-heeled shoes due to the force of gravity causes their feet to naturally slide down and press on the lowest point of the shoe so they are not able to receive enough space and stretch out. The result is an eventual distortion of the woman's toes. The deformity comes as a result of the shortening of muscles inside the toes because the toes become used to being in a bent position, prompting the muscles to fail to extend any further and become tightened and curbed. At first, toes may still be stretched out if poor footwear is not being worn, yet if the habit is persistent...the person's toes will eventually become used to the position they are constantly in and muscle fibers inside them will harden and refuse to stretch.
The symptoms of a hammer toe are usually first noticed when a corn develops on the top of the toe and becomes painful, usually when wearing tight shoes. There may be a bursa under the corn or instead of a corn, depending on the pressure. Most of the symptoms are due to pressure from footwear on the toe. There may be a callus under the metatarsal head at the base of the toe. Initially a hammer toe is usually flexible, but when longstanding it becomes more rigid.
Hammertoes are progressive, they don?t go away by themselves and usually they will get worse over time. However, not all cases are alike, some hammertoes progress more rapidly than others. Once your foot and ankle surgeon has evaluated your hammertoes, a treatment plan can be developed that is suited to your needs.
Non Surgical Treatment
Prescription strength medicines to decrease pain and inflammation. Physical Therapy. To strengthen poorly functioning muscles and stretch tight muscles that may be exacerbating the toes. Special ultrasound techniques may reduce inflammation. Custom Foot Orthotics. An orthotic with an exact mold of your foot to better align and support the foot to ease current discomfort and prevent future progression. Toe Splints or Pads. Specific pads may prevent pressure and physical irritation in shoes. Toe splints and toe spacers physically realign the toes and can lessen pain and halt or stall hammer toe progression. Cortisone injections are strong anti-inflammatory agents to decrease pain, and swelling directly at the toe region. Injections only treat the symptoms, and in some cases used in caution (and sparingly) they can weaken supporting ligaments of the toe(s).
In some cases, usually when the hammertoe has become more rigid and painful, or when an open sore has developed, surgery is needed. Often patients with hammertoe have bunions or other foot deformities corrected at the same time. In selecting the procedure or combination of procedures for your particular case, the foot and ankle surgeon will take into consideration the extent of your deformity, the number of toes involved, your age, your activity level, and other factors. The length of the recovery period will vary, depending on the procedure or procedures performed.
Preventative treatment of hammertoe is directed toward the cause of the deformity. A functional orthotic is a special insert that can be prescribed by your podiatrist to address the abnormal functioning of the foot that causes the hammertoe. Functional orthotics can be thought of as contact lenses for your feet. They correct a number of foot problems that are caused by an abnormally functioning foot. Our feet, much like our eyes, change with time. Functional orthotics slow down or halt this gradual change in the foot. Often when orthotics are used for flexible hammertoes, the toes will overtime straighten out and correct hammertoes themselves. Calf stretching exercises are also helpful. Calf stretching can help to overcome part of the muscle imbalance that causes the hammertoe.