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Hammer Toe Overview
A hammer toe is a deformity of the second, third or fourth toes. In this condition, the toe is bent at the middle joint, so that it resembles a hammer. Initially, hammer toes are flexible and can be corrected with simple measures but, if left untreated, they can become fixed and require surgery.
People with hammer toe may have corns or calluses on the top of the middle joint of the toe or on the tip of the toe. They may also feel pain in their toes or feet and have difficulty finding comfortable shoes.
Causes a Hammer Toe
Your toe contains two joints that allow it to bend at the middle and bottom. A hammer toe occurs when the middle joint becomes dislocated.
Common causes of this joint dislocation include:
- a traumatic toe injury
- an unusually high foot arch
- wearing shoes that don’t fit properly
- tightened ligaments or tendons in the foot
- pressure from a bunion, which is when your big toe points inward toward your second toe
Spinal cord or peripheral nerve damage may cause all of your toes to curl downward.
Symptoms of Hammer Toe
Common symptoms of hammertoes include:
- Pain or irritation of the affected toe when wearing shoes.
- Corns and calluses (a buildup of skin) on the toe, between two toes or on the ball of the foot. Corns are caused by constant friction against the
- shoe. They may be soft or hard, depending on their location.
- Inflammation, redness or a burning sensation
- Contracture of the toe
In more severe cases of hammertoe, open sores may form.
Diagnosis of Hammer Toe
Although hammertoes are readily apparent, to arrive at a diagnosis, the foot and ankle surgeon will obtain a thorough history of your symptoms and examine your foot. During the physical examination, the doctor may attempt to reproduce your symptoms by manipulating your foot and will study the contractures of the toes. In addition, the foot and ankle surgeon may take x-rays to determine the degree of the deformities and assess any changes that may have occurred.
Hammertoes are progressive they do not 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.
Treatment for Hammer Toe
If your toe is still flexible, your doctor might recommend that you change to roomier, more comfortable footwear and that you wear shoe inserts (orthotics) or pads. Inserts or pads can reposition your toe and relieve pressure and pain.
In addition, your doctor might suggest exercises such as picking up marbles or crumpling a towel with your toes to stretch and strengthen your toe muscles.
If conservative treatments don’t help, your doctor might recommend surgery to release the tendon that’s preventing your toe from lying flat. In some cases, the surgeon also might remove a piece of bone to straighten your toe.
Hammer Toe Prevention
Avoid wearing shoes that are too short or narrow. Check children’s shoe sizes often, especially during periods of fast growth.
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