A hammertoe is a painful deformity of the toe’s middle joint. The condition can affect the second, third, fourth or fifth (little toe) joints and is more common in females than males.
In the early stages of development, a hammertoe is flexible, and may respond to non-surgical forms of treatment, but if it’s left untreated, it may become rigid. If this happens, surgery will be the only option.
The most common cause of a hammertoe is a muscle/tendon imbalance that makes the toes to stretch or tighten in compensation. This results in a bent (hammer) toe. Another common cause is poorly-fitting shoes. Shoes that are too short can force the toes to bend in order to fit the shoe, leading to a hammer toe (or toes). Trauma, genetics and arthritis are other causes of hammer toes.
When a hammer toe is caused by factors such as genetics, trauma and arthritis, there’s not much in the way of preventative action that can be taken. But footwear is something we can do something about. To minimise the likelihood of developing a hammertoe, make sure that shoes always have a large enough toe box, and try to avoid high heels.
As with bunions, treatment of a hammertoe can be divided into surgical and non-surgical types. The non surgical approach includes non-medicated pads, massage, ice packs and a careful choice of footwear (stick to shoes that have enough room in the toe box, and avoid high heels). Orthotics (shoe inserts) can also help, as can anti inflammatory oral medicines.
If these treatments don’t help, then surgery may be required.