What Are Hammertoes?
Hammertoes are a common toe deformity that can affect any of the four smaller toes on your foot—though it’s particularly common in the second largest toe.
Essentially, a strength imbalance in the muscles, tendons, or ligaments responsible for toe motion causes the toe itself to become “stuck” in a bent position at the middle knuckle, resembling the hammer of a piano. (Mallet toes, a related condition, are similar except the bend is located at the joint closest to the end.)
Hammertoes tend to get worse over time. In mild cases, the bent digit may still be flexible enough to straighten out with your fingers. However, eventually the joint becomes more rigidly locked in place. When a hammertoe reaches this stage, surgery is often the only effective recourse. So make sure you seek treatment early!
What Causes Hammertoes?
As we said, hammertoes are caused by an imbalance in muscle, tendon, or ligament strength in the affected toe. This can be trigged by one or more underlying factors, including:
- Poor footwear. Shoes that scrunch your toes together or put a lot of weight and pressure on the front of your feet are linked to hammertoe formation. High heels are obviously included here.
- Poor foot structure. Some feet are naturally structured or aligned in ways that place excess pressure on the toes and forefoot. This could be genetically inherited, or the result of wear and tear over time. Examples include flat feet or having a second toe longer than your great toe.
- Injuries. A direct trauma, such as stubbing or jamming your toe, increases the likelihood of developing a hammertoe.
How Are Hammertoes Treated?
Hammertoes, unfortunately, do not improve on their own and cannot be straightened by any means other than surgery.
However, that does not mean all cases require surgery. On the contrary: if conservative treatments are able to eliminate painful symptoms and allow you to live a full, active lifestyle, there is no pressing need for surgery. It all depends on how severe your condition is, and the lifestyle you want to live.
Conservative treatments are most effective in the early stages of the condition, and can even slow progression of the deformity and prevent the need for surgery. So it is to your advantage to seek help as early as possible.
Strategies that can reduce your pain and allow you to return to normal activities include:
- Switching to more spacious, comfortable shoes
- Wearing certain shoe inserts, pads, or custom orthotics to reduce pressure on the toes
- Splinting or taping the toe into a more natural alignment (if the digit is still flexible)
- Stretching exercises for the feet and toes
- Over-the-counter pain medications
When hammertoes become rigid, or pain becomes serious enough that it’s interfering with daily activity and you aren’t able to manage it conservatively, surgery is usually the best option.
A number of surgical procedures are available to address a hammertoe. In the most simple cases, we may only need to transfer or repair a tendon in order to re-straighten the toe. More likely, however, a small section of bone will need to be cut or removed in order to improve alignment. We also provide joint fusions and joint replacements in conditions that warrant them.
Although there will be some downtime associated with surgery, the vast majority of patients are very happy with the results. We can include treatments such as laser therapy and biologic products in the recovery process to drastically reduce overall healing and rehabilitation time.
No matter what the status of your hammertoes may be, our team can help you identify the best treatment option for your condition and needs. To schedule an appointment, please call the office closest to you today.