Hammertoe is a condition in which the tendons on the bottom of the toe pull harder than the tendons on the top of the toe. This unequal tension causes the toe to contract downward.
Hammertoes can be flexible or rigid. If they are flexible, you can straighten out the toe by manipulating it with your fingers. If they are rigid, you cannot straighten the toe yourself. Flexible hammertoe that doesn’t receive treatment may become rigid over time.
What Causes Hammertoe?
Risk factors for hammertoe include:
- Shoes that are too small or narrow at the toe
- Being female
- Trauma to the toe
- Second toe that’s longer than the big toe
- Chronic diseases, such as diabetes
Hammertoe can be painful to walk on. The curled toe may rub against your shoe, causing calluses. Your hammertoe may eventually fuse into place and become permanent.
How Is Hammertoe Treated?
Your expert podiatrists at Alliance Foot & Ankle Specialists choose either preventive, symptomatic, or curative therapies for your hammertoe, depending on your degree of disability and how rigid the contraction is.
- Preventive treatment. Your Alliance podiatrist prescribes orthotics, which are the “contact lenses” of podiatry. Like contact lenses, orthotics reshape the treated area so that it functions well. Functional orthotics combined with calf-strengthening exercises encourage the toe to straighten out on its own over time.
- Symptomatic treatment. You can ease the discomfort of hammertoe by wearing open-toe shoes or using hammertoe pads to reduce friction. Your podiatrist removes any corns or calluses that are troubling you. Over-the-counter corn remedies also can work but must be used with caution by healthy men and women and not at all by anyone who has diabetes.
- Curative treatment. Your podiatrist can fix a flexible hammertoe with a simple, in-office tendon-release surgery that only requires a single stitch. Surgery for rigid hammertoes is complicated. Your surgeon removes corns and the damaged skin and also removes a small section of bone at the fused joint. You may need a pin in your toe to hold it in place as it heals. Recovery takes several weeks.
If you have a hammertoe, treating it sooner rather than later provides the best results. Contact the experts at Alliance Foot & Ankle Specialists.