Most people are familiar with hammertoe—a deformity where a toe bends downward, taking on the appearance of its namesake. However, at Gentle Professional Foot Care, we often find that beyond identifying a hammertoe, many patients lack important information about the cause and treatment of this potentially debilitating condition. Here are some facts you should know:
Hammertoes may be aggravated by shoes but are not caused by them. Hammertoe is a contracture of the small joints in the toe. It is most often caused by a structural or neurological problem or a muscle/tendon imbalance. In some cases hammertoe may be genetic or the result of a previous trauma to the toe.
Hammertoes are progressive. They will continue to get worse over time if not treated. Although hammertoes usually begin as a mild deformity, with the toe remaining flexible, over time it will become more and more rigid. Corns, calluses and sores can form on the top of the toe where it rubs against your shoes. This can cause severe pain and make wearing shoes and walking increasingly difficult.
There are non-invasive ways of treating hammertoes. Our foot and ankle surgeon, Dr. Charles A. Suleskey, can recommend several options after evaluating your hammertoe and determining how far it has progressed. Pain relief can come from nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications and corticosteroid injections. Strapping or splinting can be used to realign the toe and custom orthotics may provide correction for a muscle/tendon imbalance.
The right shoes can help. In addition to the above treatments, the foot doctor will recommend that you choose shoes with low heels (under 2 inches) and roomy toe boxes made of soft material to accommodate a hammertoe and prevent further irritation.
Left untreated hammertoes will most likely require surgery. Eventually, hammertoes will become so rigid that the toe no longer is able to unbend into a normal position through the conservative methods described above. Open sores that do not heal and constant pain may make it necessary to use surgery to correct this deformity.