Hammer toe is most common in women, and a big part of this is poor shoe choices, which are a big factor in the development of many foot problems. Tight toe boxes and high heels are the biggest culprits. Genetics certainly plays a role in some cases of hammertoes, as does trauma, infection, arthritis, and certain neurological and muscle disorders. Most cases of contracted toes are associated with various biomechanical abnormalities in how a patient walks. This causes the muscles and tendons to be used excessively or improperly, which deforms the toes over time.
Hammer toe is often caused by wearing shoes that do not fit properly. If shoes are too small either in length or width, then the toes are held in a shortened position for long periods and the muscles eventually shorten and pull the toes into the bent position. Alternatively it can be caused by overactivity in the extensor digitorum dongus muscle (right) and a weakness in the counteracting muscle under the foot, such as flexor digitorum longus. Sometimes it can be a congenital condition, meaning it is present from birth. It is also more common in those with arthritis in the foot or diabetes.
Well-developed hammertoes are distinctive due to the abnormal bent shape of the toe. However, there are many other common symptoms. Some symptoms may be present before the toe becomes overly bent or fixed in the contracted position. Often, before the toe becomes permanently contracted, there will be pain or irritation over the top of the toe, particularly over the joint. The symptoms are pronounced while wearing shoes due to the top of the toe rubbing against the upper portion of the shoe. Often, there is a significant amount of friction between the toe and the shoe or between the toe and the toes on either side of it. The corns hammertoes may be soft or hard, depending on their location and age. The affected toe may also appear red with irritated skin. In more severe cases, blisters or open sores may form. Those with diabetes should take extra care if they develop any of these symptoms, as they could lead to further complications.
The treatment options vary with the type and severity of each hammer toe, although identifying the deformity early in its development is important to avoid surgery. Your podiatric physician will examine and X-ray the affected area and recommend a treatment plan specific to your condition.
Non Surgical Treatment
Wear sensible shoes. If you don?t want to have surgery to fix your hammertoe, use non-medicated padding along with proper shoes made with a wider and deeper toe box to accommodate your foot?s shape. Ensuring your shoes have a good arch support can slow the progression of the condition as well. Use a pumice stone. The corn or callus that forms on top of the hammertoe can cause discomfort when you wear shoes. Treat the corn by using a file or pumice stone to reduce its size after a warm bath, then apply emollients to keep the area softened and pliable. Use silicone or moleskin padding on top of the area when wearing shoes. Do foot exercises. Theoretically, exercises like extending, then curling the toes, splaying the toes, and moving the toes individually may help prevent the digital contracture that causes hammertoe. Try these suggestions and see what works best for you.
If conservative measures fail to provide relief, or if your hammertoe is in advanced stages with rigidity and a significant amount of pain, surgery may be required. Some patients also require surgery if they have open sores or wounds related to their hammertoe. For patients who also suffer from bunions, a combined procedure may be appropriate, addressing both conditions within the same surgery. Recovery time will vary from patient to patient, depending on the extent of the surgical repair and other conditions that may also be present.