A Hammer toes is a contracture-or bending-of the toe at the first joint of the digit, called the proximal interphalangeal joint. This bending causes the toe to appear like an upside-down V when looked at from the side. Any toe can be involved, but the condition usually affects the second through fifth toes, known as the lesser digits. Hammertoes are more common to females than males.
Risk factors for hammertoe include heredity, a second toe that is longer than the first (Morton foot), high arches or flat feet, injury in which the toe was jammed, rheumatoid arthritis, and, in diabetics, abnormal foot mechanics resulting from muscle and nerve damage. Hammertoe may be precipitated by advancing age, weakness of small muscles in the foot (foot intrinsic muscles), and the wearing of shoes that crowd the toes (too tight, too short, or with heels that are too high). The condition is more common in females than in males.
People with a hammer toe will often find that a corn or callus will develop on the top of the toe, where it rubs against the top of the footwear. This can be painful when pressure is applied or when anything rubs on it. The affected joint may also be painful and appear swollen.
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 hammertoes 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
Treatment for a hammertoe usually depends on the stage of the hammertoe and the cause of the condition. If your toe is still bendable, your doctor may suggest conservative care-relieving pressure with padding and strapping, or proper shoes that have a deep toe box and are of adequate length and width. Early intervention can often prevent the need for surgery.
If these non-invasive treatments don?t work, or if the joint is rigid, a doctor?s only recourse may be to perform surgery. During the surgery, the doctor makes an incision and cuts the tendon to release it or moves the tendon away from or around the joint. Sometimes part of the joint needs to be removed or the joint needs to be fused. Each surgery is different in terms of what is needed to treat the hammertoe. Normally after any foot surgery, patients use a surgical shoe for four to six weeks, but often the recovery from hammertoe surgery is more rapid than that. An unfortunate reality is that hammertoe can actually return even after surgery if a patient continues to make choices that will aggravate the situation. Though doctors usually explain pretty clearly what needs to be done to avoid this.