Hammer Toes – Identifying and Treating

We come across many physical deformities which are minor, not much troublesome and so, we ignore it. We tend to overlook or neglect it till it starts to actually give trouble. Hammer toes is one such condition that is often ignored because it starts off as a mild deformity but then gets worse over a period of time. It is a state in which the proximal interphalangeal joint of the second, third, fourth or the little toes become bent, most usually because of poorly fitting shoes which after some time force the toes to point downwards instead of forward.

Hammer toes need early attention. This condition can never heal on the own and neither can its situation reverse without some kind of intervention. If left untreated, hammer toes can turn more rigid, forcing the toes to become deformed and then the only option remains is to go for surgical treatment! Non-surgical remedies may not work then. Therefore, doctors or podiatrists always advise a thorough examination if you suspect that you are progressing towards hammer toes.

Hammer Toes

The Cause

Each of our toes has two joints – one in the middle and the other is the bottom one. If the middle toe is dislocated, then the toes start to point downwards which is identifiable as hammer toes.

Poorly fitting shoes is usually the cause of this, especially when the toe box of the shoe is narrow. If the shoe is too tight, very short, has too much of high heels or is too pointy then the toes get pushed out of balance. For long periods of time, they continue to stay bent causing the muscles in the toes to shorten thus resulting in the hammer toes deformity.

But this is not the only cause. Joint damage could occur if you are suffering from osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. Alternately, spinal cord or peripheral nerve damage may also cause all your toes to point downwards.

Another common cause of hammer toes is a muscle/tendon imbalance. The muscles of each toe work in pairs and so when the balance between them is lost, hammer toes can be the result. Muscle imbalance will apply a lot of pressure on the toe’s tendons and joints thus forcing the toe into a hammerhead shape.

High-arched feet can also lead to hammer toes just as tightened ligaments or tendons in the foot can. And if you have inherited a flat foot, then you are likely to get hammer toes. Also, foot injuries or bunions are sources of this condition.

The Symptoms

The most common complaints in hammer toes are difficulty in walking, pain plus occurrence of corns and calluses on the top of the toe joint, between the toes or on the ball of the foot. Somebody with hammer toes will feel pain or irritation on the affected toe and at the top of the bent toes when wearing shoes. This is accompanied by inflammation, redness or a burning sensation. He or she will experience contracture of the toe and will find it difficult to move the toe joint.

Only in severe case, open sores may form.

Temporary Relief

  • Flex your toes to get relief from the pain and to push your toes back into normal position.
  • Non-medicated hammer toe pads fit around the pointy top of the toe and helps provide respite from pain.
  • Use ice packs to reduce inflammation.
  • Products like 3pp Gel Tubes can provide protection to your toes when walking. They are soft and stretchable and ease pressure and friction.

The Treatment

A thorough medical examination, including X-ray will tell whether you have a hammer toe. And then treatment will be advised depending on the severity of the condition.

Mild Cases

Hammer Toes

If your hammer toes are because of ill-fitting shoes, then you need to get that changed and then this condition will eventually sort itself out if still mild. You need to keep your heels to 2 inches maximum because high heels can put pressure on your toes. You should ensure you have enough toe space in your shoe. Ensure that there is at least 1.5 cm between the tip of your longest toe and the front of the shoe.

Hammer toes due to a high-arch foot can be treated by wearing toe pads or insoles in the shoes. This will change your toe’s position and correct the appearance. Pain will also gradually disappear.

Bunions and corns should be treated with pads or medications or removed via surgery.

Severe Cases

Surgery is the only alternative in case of severe deformity and to re-establish movement in your toes. There are several surgical procedures, some of which are simpler and out-patient ones while extreme cases may require complicated techniques. Surgery will involve realigning the toe joint after the removal of the small piece of bone at the joint which is involved.

 

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