A hammertoe is a painful deformity of the toe’s middle joint that makes the toe look like a hammerhead. The condition can occur in 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. If it is left untreated, however, it may become rigid – in which case, surgery will be the only option.
What causes Hammer toes?
Several factors are linked to the development of hammer toes. The most common of these is a muscle/tendon imbalance which causes the toes to stretch or tighten in order to compensate. The result a bent (hammer) toe. Another common cause is poorly-fitting shoes. Shoes that are too short can cause the toes to push backwards, forcing the toes to bend in order to fit the shoe. This often leads to a hammer toe (or toes). Trauma, inheritance and arthritis are other factors that can lead to the development of hammer toes.
We can do little about most causes of hammer toes, such as genetics, trauma and arthritis. 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 condition can be divided into surgical and non-surgical types. The non surgical approach includes non-medicated pads, gentle massage, ice packs and care with footwear – stick to shoes that have enough room in the toe box, and avoid high heels. Wearing splints to realign the toes, as well as orthotics (shoe inserts), may help control the muscle imbalance and reduce the pain. Anti inflammatory oral medicines can also help.
If non-surgical treatments don’t help, then surgery may be required to relieve pain, restore muscle balance and realign the toes.