At first, you’ll barely notice a hammertoe and your symptoms may be so mild you won’t even think of scheduling an appointment here at Alliance Foot & Ankle in Grapevine and Keller, Texas. But waiting to get treatment is a mistake. Over time, a flexible but odd-looking hammertoe turns into an immovable and painful deformity. By the time that happens, you may have to skip the first four treatments and go straight to surgery.
What You Should Know About Hammertoe
Hammertoe is a deformity that occurs when the middle joint of your second, third, or fourth toe bends upward, making the tip of your toe turn downward. When your toe stays in the bent position, the muscles begin to shorten and tighten, eventually becoming stuck in an odd-looking hammertoe shape. Although it affects the appearance of your foot, that’s the least of your problems. Hammertoe is painful and, combined with its abnormal shape, you’ll struggle to fit your foot into your shoe. You’re also likely to develop a painful corn on top of the bent toe, where it rubs against your shoe.
As if that’s not enough, patients with hammertoe often develop calluses on the ball of their foot, which only adds to your foot pain. So what causes hammertoe? Your genes contribute a tendency to develop hammertoe, often due to toe muscle weakness, but poor-fitting shoes seal the deal and hasten the process. Whether you love to wear narrow-toed shoes or high heels, or maybe your shoes are too short, footwear that forces your toes into a bent position results in hammertoe. This explains why hammertoe is more common in women than in men.
Bunions also increase your risk of hammertoe because the bunion may push your big toe into the second toe, forcing it into a hammertoe position.
Treatment Options for Hammertoe
When it comes to treating your hammertoe, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that we can treat hammertoe with conservative options when you come in while your toe is still flexible. The bad news is that hammertoe never heals on its own. Without treatment, it gets progressively worse, and becomes so rigid that your only option is surgery.
Here are the top five ways to treat hammertoe:
New shoes are essential. You’ll need a roomy toe box to comfortably accommodate your toes. It goes without saying that you’ll need to avoid pointed toes and stick with heels that are two inches or less. In severe cases, we may prescribe orthopedic shoes to ensure your comfort, properly cushion and support your foot, and prevent further problems. At Alliance Foot & Ankle Specialists, we offer Brooks running shoes, Vionic, Aetrex comfort shoes.
That’s right — toe exercises. We can recommend exercises that stretch and strengthen your toe muscles. As long as your toe is still flexible, exercise can treat the problem and prevent it from worsening.
Orthotics fit inside your shoes and they’re specially designed to relieve pressure on your toe, prevent irritation, and restore muscle balance.
Toe splinting, taping, or padding
We may prescribe one of many products available that help straighten your toe and relieve pain. For example, splinting and taping hold your toe in a normal position, while padding helps cushion the toe.
Surgery as a Last Resort
Surgery is the last treatment option, but it may be the only choice when your toe is too rigid to move or your pain can’t be managed with orthotics, padding, and better-fitting shoes. If your toe is flexible, we may be able to repair it by rerouting the tendons to move the joint back into a straight position. Joint resection and bone fusion are the best surgical choices when your toe is rigid and immovable.
Don’t wait to get treatment for a hammertoe: It’s easier to repair with conservative measures if you come in while the muscles are still flexible. If you have any questions, call Alliance Foot & Ankle or book an appointment online.