A Hammer toe is the result of deformed toe joints, tight tendons that attach to the toe, and misaligned toe bones. The usual appearance of a hammertoe is a toe bent upward at the middle toe joint, so that the top of this joint rubs against the top of the shoe. The remainder of the toe is bent downward so that, instead of the entire toe bearing weight, only the tip of the toe bears weight. Pain can occur on the top of the toe, the tip of the toe, or in both areas.
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.
The most obvious sign of hammertoes are bent toes, other symptoms may include pain and stiffness during movement of the toe. Painful corns on the tops of the toe or toes from rubbing against the top of the shoe's toe box. Painful calluses on the bottoms of the toe or toes. Pain on the bottom of the ball of the foot. Redness and swelling at the joints.
Your doctor is very likely to be able to diagnose your hammertoe simply by examining your foot. Even before that, he or she will probably ask about your family and personal medical history and evaluate your gait as you walk and the types of shoes you wear. You'll be asked about your symptoms, when they started and when they occur. You may also be asked to flex your toe so that your doctor can get an idea of your range of motion. He or she may order x-rays in order to better define your deformity.
Non Surgical Treatment
Your doctor may prescribe some toe exercises that you can do at home to stretch and strengthen the muscles. For example, you can gently stretch the toes manually. You can use your toes to pick things up off the floor. While you watch television or read, you can put a towel flat hammertoe under your feet and use your toes to crumple it. Finally, your doctor may recommend that you use commercially available straps, cushions or nonmedicated corn pads to relieve symptoms. If you have diabetes, poor circulation or a lack of feeling in your feet, talk to your doctor before attempting any self-treatment.
If a person's toes have become very inflexible and unresponsive to non-invasive means of treatment and if open sores have developed as a result of constant friction, they may receive orthopaedic surgery to correct the deformity. The operation is quick and is commonly performed as an out-patient procedure. The doctor administers a local anesthetic into the person's foot to numb the site of the operation. The person may remain conscious as the surgeon performs the procedure. A sedative might also be administered to help calm the person if they are too anxious.
If you notice the beginning signs of hammertoe, you may be able to prevent the tendons from tightening by wearing toe-friendly shoes, by flattening your toes regularly, and by soaking your feet every day in warm water, then stretching your toes and ankles by pointing your toes. Foot exercises also can help to maintain or restore the flexibility of the tendons. One simple exercise is to place a small towel on the floor and then pick it up using only your toes. You also can grasp at carpet with your toes or curl your toes up and down repeatedly.