Hammer Toe

A hammer toe is a deformity of the second, third or fourth toes. In this condition, the toe is bent at the middle joint, so that it resembles a hammer. Initially, hammer toes are flexible and can be corrected with simple measures but, if left untreated, they can become fixed and require surgery.

What You Need to Know About Hammer Toe

What is Hammer Toe?

A hammer toe is a painful foot deformity where the toe is bent at the middle joint. This condition resembles the head of a hammer, hence its nickname. The toe's abnormal bending is the result of an imbalance on the muscles, ligaments, and tendons that usually keep the toe straight. Usually, muscles work in pairs to straighten and bend the toes. But If the toe is bent and held in one position long enough, the muscles tighten and cannot stretch out.

There is no single cause of hammer toe. Although some people are born with hammer toes, it typically develops as a result of trauma from ill-fitting shoes, or arthritis.

Only a doctor can diagnose hammer toe. Book your appointment now to talk to a Resurgens Foot & Ankle expert.

What Causes Hammer Toe?

There is no single cause of a hammer toe. Any condition that causes an abnormal balance of the toe muscles can cause a hammer toe. Additionally women are more likely to develop a hammer toe than men. And your risk of hammer toe increases as a result of aging.

Many conditions can cause unstable toe muscles including:

  • Traumatic toe injury

  • Arthritis

  • Abnormalities in the foot such as an overly high arch or toe length

  • Improper footwear

  • Overly tight ligaments or tendon

  • Bunions

  • Nerve damage

  • Genetics

Hammer Toe Symptoms

Patients with hammer toe may experience the following symptoms:

  • Debilitating/severe pain in the affected toe. Especially if they are moving or using shoes
  • Corns and calluses on near to their hammer toe
  • Inability to straighten the toe
  • Persistent swelling, burning, or redness of the toe

These are only a few of the symptoms related to hammer toe. Your doctor will be able to give you a more thorough run-down of hammer toe symptoms.

How is Hammer Toe Diagnosed?

Since the condition is physically apparent, it is usually easy to see if you have a hammer toe. However, a thorough diagnosis will help pinpoint the cause of your condition and determine the best intervention. During your initial consultation, your doctor may need to reproduce your symptoms. Be prepared to experience some discomfort, as your doctor may need to aggravate your hammer toe.

Your doctor may request diagnostic screenings to understand the extent of your condition. The use of x-rays can help them rule out causes for your hammer toe and provide a fundamental tool for creating your treatment plan.

Hammer Toe Treatment Options

Hammer toes are a progressive condition. That means they do not improve without intervention. But not all hammer toes progress at the same rate. Once an expert at Resurgens Orthopaedics has evaluated your condition, they will be able to determine the best treatment option.

Your doctor may recommend using custom orthotics or bracing/casts to address your hammer toe. They may also prescribe some toe exercises that you can do at home to stretch and strengthen the muscles. Finally, your doctor may recommend that you use commercially available straps, cushions or non medicated corn pads to relieve symptoms. If you have diabetes, poor circulation or a lack of feeling in your feet, talk to your doctor before attempting any self-treatment.

During your treatment, be conscious of your footwear. Avoid wearing tight, narrow, high-heeled shoes. You may also be able to find a shoe with a deep toe box that accommodates the hammer toe. Or, a shoe repair shop may be able to stretch the toe box so that it bulges out around the toe. Sandals may help, as long as they do not pinch or rub other areas of the foot.

For more severe cases, a doctor may recommend drugs to reduce inflammation and lessen your pain. Over the counter pain relievers like Aleve, Tylenol, and Advil can address these symptoms. Sometimes your doctor may elect to give your affected foot steroid injections.

If non-surgical conservative measures fail, your doctor may recommend hammer toe correction surgery. Usually, surgery is done on an outpatient basis with a local anesthetic. The actual procedure will depend on the type and extent of the deformity. After the surgery, there may be some stiffness, swelling and redness and the toe may be slightly longer or shorter than before. You should keep your foot elevated as much as possible.

Learn more about the Foot & Ankle Center at Resurgens Orthopaedics.

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