A hammertoe is an abnormal bending, or contracture, of one or two of the joints of the second, third, fourth, or fifth (little or baby) toes. This can cause problems when wearing shoes, when pain or irritation to the affected toe may occur. This is especially problematic in when a shoe’s toebox is narrow, as is the case in many women’s shoes. Corns and calluses, or abnormal skin buildups, can ultimately occur, making it difficult to find comfortable shoes.
Hammertoes usually begin as mild deformities and worsen over time. Muscle/tendon imbalance is the most common cause of a hammertoe. This imbalance with subsequent abnormal bending results from structural changes that occur in the foot over time. They are usually flexible in their early stages and are easily managed conservatively at this point.
If left untreated, they can become rigid, at which point surgical intervention may be necessary to alleviate symptoms. As time goes on, corns are more likely to develop, which often return even after trimming. Given their progressive nature, hammertoes usually require some form of intervention, underlining the need for early treatment.
A number of treatment options exist for hammertoes, most of which are based on the severity of the deformity.
Calluses and corns may be trimmed, but it is recommended that this be only done by an experienced professional, as cuts and infections may occur if done improperly.
Pads may be used for corns and calluses, and a number of quality over the counter options exist. Medicated pads are almost never recommended, and should be avoided at all costs, as the acidic compounded used in the medication may lead to an infection in an uncontrolled environment.
Should restrictive shoe gear be the leading to irritation of a hammertoe, a change in shoes may alleviate symptoms. Shoes that force the toe against the front of the shoe may precipitate pain, and choosing a deeper, roomier toe box may be all that one needs to alleviate pain.
Surgery is usually reserved for more severe cases of rigid hammertoes where the goal is pain and discomfort relief from the deformity. Correction for cosmetic reasons is rarely indicated, as the primary goal of hammertoe surgery is to relieve pain and discomfort, rather than return a toe to a normal appearance. The most common surgical procedure employed is call an arthroplasty, wherein the surgeon removes a small section of bone from the affected joint. Another option is an arthrodesis, or fusion, which is usually reserved for severe cases, and may be done with the help of an implant.
If you suffer from one or more hammertoes, we invite you to schedule an appointment with one of our friendly foot and ankle physicians sometime soon. You’ll find a tab to request an appointment and the phone number for our clinic conveniently located at the top of this page to get you started. We have convenient hours and always have same-day appointments available for those with immediate care needs.