Hammer Toe

Hammer toe is the most common deformity of the second, third, or fourth toe. It is often caused by wearing narrow shoes with little to no arch support. The condition can be extremely painful but there are many treatments available to ease the pain. A hammer toe is a toe that has an abnormal bend in its middle joint, making the toe bend downward to look like a hammer. This painful condition forms due to an imbalance in the surrounding muscles, tendons, or ligaments that normally keep the toe straight. Hammer toes are flexible to begin with. If hammer toe is not treated promptly, they may become fixed and require surgery to correct them.

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The symptoms of hammer toe are often very visible. The affected toe will be bent, looking like a hammer.

Other symptoms of hammer toe include:

  • Pain in the affected toe, especially when moving it or wearing shoes.
  • Corns and callouses on top of the middle joint of the hammer toe.
  • Swelling, redness, or a burning sensation.
  • Inability to straighten the toe.
  • In severe cases, open sores may develop on the toe.

Hammer toe occurs from an imbalance in the muscles surrounding the middle toe joint. These muscles, tendons, and ligaments work together to bend and straighten the toes. If one of the muscles weakens, it cannot bend or straighten the toe. If the toe stays bent long enough, the muscles tighten and the toe will not be able to straighten out. These muscle weaknesses and imbalances are caused by a variety of factors. Because some of the causes for hammer toe are avoidable, it is possible to minimize the risk of developing hammer toe.

Causes of hammer toe include the following:

  • Wearing high heels or shoes that are too tight through the box can force toes into a flexed position. When worn repeatedly, the toes may not be able to straighten, even when barefoot.
  • Women are more likely to develop hammer toe than men.
  • When a toe is broken, stubbed, or jammed, it may be more likely to develop hammer toe.
  • Risk increases with age.
  • If the second toe is longer than the big toe, hammer toe is more likely to occur.
  • People suffering from conditions like arthritis or diabetes are more likely to develop foot problems, including hammer toe
  • Sometimes, hammer toe is hereditary and may run in families.

If the hammer toe is treated while the toe is still flexible, a doctor may recommend:

  • Exercises such as picking up marbles with the toe.
  • Switching to proper footwear with low heels and a roomy box.
  • Gently stretching the toe manually several times a day.
  • A podiatrist may be able to create a shoe insert to reduce pain and stop the hammer toe from worsening.
  • Using over-the-counter corn pads and foot straps to relieve some of the painful symptoms.
  • Sometimes a doctor might use a cortisone injection to relieve pain.

It is important not to pop any blisters that might occur on the foot as this can lead to infection.

If the hammer toe cannot be moved, a doctor may recommend surgery for the toe. The surgery aims to reposition the toe, realign tendons, and remove deformed or injured bone. Often, surgery is carried out as an outpatient, so the individual can normally go home on the same day as the procedure.

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