The term, Hammer toes
is used to describe the collective physical deformity of the second, third and fourth toe on a person's foot when they are permanently bent at one or two of their joints, often times at their middle joints or, 'proximal interphalangeal,' joints. The condition is also referred to as, 'contracted toes,' and earned its name for the resulting bowed appearance of the toes that made them appear similar to hammers. The distortion of the usual contour of the person's toes is usually a result of wearing shoes that are too short or narrow and apply consistent pressure to the toes, forcing them to be pushed together and lie obliquely. The situation is particularly true in the case of shoes that are designed to narrow towards the toe box.
A common cause of hammer toe is wearing shoes that do not fit properly. Poorly-fitting shoes can hold the toes in an abnormal position and result in tightening of the muscles required to maintain that position. In particular, shoes that have high heels and are narrow at front tend to push the toes into an abnormal, bent position. Less commonly, diseases of the nerves, muscles, or joints (such as arthritis) can result in the hammer toe deformity.
A hammer toe may be painful, especially when irritated by a shoe. All four toe conditions may cause cramps in the toes, foot and leg due to the abnormal function of the tendons in the foot. If a mallet toe has occurred, you are likely to suffer from a corn at the end of the toe. A hammertoe may cause a corn on the top of the toe. Infections and ulcers can also occur. In severe cases a mallet toe, trigger toe, claw toe or a hammer toe may create a downward pressure on the foot, which can result in hard skin and corns on the soles of the feet.
Most health care professionals can diagnose hammertoe simply by examining your toes and feet. X-rays of the feet are not needed to diagnose hammertoe, but they may be useful to look for signs of some types of arthritis (such as rheumatoid arthritis) or other disorders that can cause hammertoe. If the deformed toe is very painful, your doctor may recommend that you have a fluid sample withdrawn from the joint with a needle so the fluid can be checked for signs of infection or gout (arthritis from crystal deposits).
Non Surgical Treatment
Early on, when a hammertoe first starts and is still flexible, here are some ways it might be treated. Your healthcare provider may splint or tape the toe into the correct, normal position. You can use your fingers to stretch your toes and toe joints toward a more normal position. Exercise your toes by trying to pick up marbles with them or by wadding up a towel on the floor with your toes. Padding may be used to change where your weight falls when you walk on the foot.
Surgical correction is needed to bring the toe into a corrected position and increase its function. Correction of the hammer toes is a simple outpatient surgery, with limited downtime. The best option is to fuse the deformed and contracted toe into a straight position. This limits the need for future surgery and deformity return. A new pin that absorbs in the bone or small screw is used by the Foot and Ankle Institute to avoid the need for a metal pin protruding from the toe during recovery. Although the absorbable pin is not for everyone, it is much more comfortable than the pin protruding from the end of the toe. In certain cases, a removal of a small area of bone in the deformity area will decrease pain and limit the need for a surgical waiting period that is found with fusions. Although the toe is not as stable as with a fusion, in certain cases, an arthroplasty is the best option.