Our toes do their best to keep on the straight and narrow, but sometimes certain factors will cause them to stray. One of the ways our toes can gradually deform over time is to develop into hammertoes.
A hammertoe can come in different forms, and be bothersome and painful for a number of reasons. The best treatment for managing or correcting hammertoes is going to differ from each case, but options definitely exist!
What Is a Hammertoe?
Instead of resting straight out as normally, a hammertoe will gradually curl downward, resembling (sort of) a hammer.
A hammertoe most often develops due to an imbalance in the muscles, ligaments, and tendons attached to the toe.
Even when we’re not flexing our toes, these tissues keep them in a straight, relatively fixed position. If an imbalance forms in this setup, however—such as from a tendon weakening or a muscle growing too strong—this balance will become unstable and the toe will begin to shift at the joint.
An imbalance can arise because of genetics, long-term use of tight shoes, or a traumatic injury to the toe.
You might hear the terms “hammertoe” and “mallet toe” interchanged, but they have different definitions:
- A hammertoe will present a bend in the middle joint of a toe
- A mallet toe will present a bend in the upper joint of a toe, closest to the toenail.
- If both joints are bent, this is sometimes called a claw toe.
These types of conditions tend to affect the second and third toes of the foot most often, but it is not impossible to develop in other toes.
What are the Risk Factors for Developing Hammertoe?
The following may increase one’s risk of hammertoe:
- Gender. More cases of hammer toe occur with women than men.
- Age. Older individuals who have had more stress on their feet have a higher likelihood.
- Toe Length. Having a second toe longer than the big toe is linked to higher occurrences.
- Arthritis increases the chances of hammertoe by potentially weakening toe joints.
- Diabetes increases the risk of hammertoe by potentially damaging nerves responsible for controlling toe muscles.
- Bunion sufferers also have a higher risk of developing a hammertoe in the second toe, as the big toe begins to push against it.
Early Treatment is Best!
One of the main concerns with a hammer toe or any of its relatives is the limited window of time there may be to provide the most effective treatment.
When a hammertoe begins to develop, the toe tends to retain most or all its flexibility. It happens to bend in a resting state, but can straighten out relatively easily.
Over enough time, however, a hammertoe may become rigid and permanently remain in that bent position. This can be quite painful, as well as lead to irritation and the forming of corns and calluses on the toe.
More options tend to be available for a hammertoe patient the sooner the condition is recognized. A functional orthotic device might be prescribed to realign the foot and help rebalance the forces being placed on the toe, slowing or preventing the development of the deformity. Stretching exercises can also help restore proper balance in the muscles and tendons.
For painful symptoms of hammertoe, cushioning pads as well as corn and callus treatments are available. The proper course of action with these is best discussed with us.
Surgical Treatments for Hammertoe
Surgery may be a consideration for hammertoe in both flexible and rigid states, depending on how much trouble the condition is causing and how effective other forms of treatment have been.
When a hammertoe is flexible, a tendon release is a simple, quick procedure that often has good results and a fast recovery time.
When the hammertoe is rigid, surgery becomes more complicated. Procedures might involve removing a small section of bone near the joint. In the most severe cases, a pin may be surgically placed to provided added support to the toe. Recovery time for this type of procedure can be several weeks.
If you need help with a hammertoe, mallet toe, or claw toe, do not hold out in hopes of things getting better on their own! Getting professional treatment now can help prevent worse problems in the future.
Contact either of our two El Paso offices by phone or use our online contact form at any time to schedule an appointment.