There are two different types of Hammer toe. Flexible Hammer Toes. These hammer toes are less serious because they can be diagnosed and treated while still in the developmental stage. They are called flexible hammer toes because they are still moveable at the joint. Rigid Hammer Toes. This variety is more developed and more serious than the flexible condition. Rigid hammer toes can be seen in patients with severe arthritis, for example, or in patients who wait too long to seek professional treatment. The tendons in a rigid hammer toe have become tight, and the joint misaligned and immobile, making surgery the usual course of treatment.
Hammer toe is often caused by wearing shoes that do not fit properly. If shoes are too small either in length or width, then the toes are held in a shortened position for long periods and the muscles eventually shorten and pull the toes into the bent position. Alternatively it can be caused by overactivity in the extensor digitorum dongus muscle (right) and a weakness in the counteracting muscle under the foot, such as flexor digitorum longus. Sometimes it can be a congenital condition, meaning it is present from birth. It is also more common in those with arthritis in the foot or diabetes.
Here is a look at some of the symptoms hammertoe can cause. They include hammer-like or claw-like appearance of the toe. Pain when walking or moving the foot. Difficulty moving the toe. Corns may form on top of the toe. Callus may form on the sole of the foot. During the initial stages, you may be able to manually straighten your toe. This is called a flexible hammertoe. But as time passes, the toe will not move as easily and will continue to look like a hammer. Pressure and irritation over the joint can cause a blister to develop and become a corn over time. These corns have the potential to become infected and cause additional symptoms such as redness, bleeding, and difficulty wearing shoes and socks. Corns are the main cause of pain when hammertoes are developing.
First push up on the bottom of the metatarsal head associated with the affected toe and see if the toe straightens out. If it does, then an orthotic could correct the problem, usually with a metatarsal pad. If the toe does not straighten out when the metatarsal head is pushed up, then that indicates that contracture in the capsule and ligaments (capsule contracts because the joint was in the wrong position for too long) of the MTP joint has set in and surgery is required. Orthotics are generally required post-surgically.
Non Surgical Treatment
Pad it. Mild cases of hammertoe can be treated with corn pads or felt pads available in the pharmacy. Toe caps, the small, padded sleeves that fit Hammer toe around the tip of the toe, may relieve hammer toe pain. Change your shoes. Wear wide shoes with resilient soles. Avoid shoes with pointed toes. Exercise. Certain exercises such as moving and stretching your toe gently with your hands and picking small or soft objects such as marbles or towels can keep your toe joints flexible. Also, while you are watching television or reading, you can also put a towel flat under your feet and use your toes to crumple it. This simple exercise can stretch and strengthen your muscles. Use ice. If your hammer toe becomes painful, applying an ice pack several times a day can help relieve the soreness and swelling.
Take medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (also called NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen may be helpful in minimizing pain and inflammation. Use orthotic devices. Place a custom orthotic device in your shoe. This will help control the muscle/tendon imbalance.
Hammertoe surgery is performed when conservative measures have been exhausted and pain or deformity still persists. The surgery is performed on an outpatient basis. It typically required about one hour of time. An incision is placed over the inter-phalangeal joint. Once the bone is exposed, the end portion of the bone is removed. Your surgeon may then use pins or other fixation devices to assist in straightening the toe. These devices may be removed at a later date if necessary. Recovery for hammertoe surgery is approximately 10 to 14 days. You are able to walk immediately following the surgery in a surgical shoe. Swelling may be present but is managed as needed. Physical therapy is used to help reduce swelling in the toe or toes after surgery. Most of these toe surgeries can be performed in the office or the outpatient surgery under local anesthesia.