Hammertoe is a condition that typically affects the second, third, or fourth toes. When a patient is suffering from hammertoe, the affected toe is bent at the middle joint giving it the impression of a hammer.
Signs and Symptoms of Hammertoe
Hammertoe’s most noticeable sign is the bending of the toe. The affected toe will also commonly develop calluses or corns along the top and/or the front of the toe. Calluses and corns develop because of the intense pressure being applied those parts of the toe when wearing shoes. Pain can also be a symptom, but it is not always present in every case. For example, in some cases the hammertoe deformity may appear mild yet the patient may be experiencing significant pain while in others, patients with more severe deformities may feel only mild or no pain.
What Causes Hammertoe?
The most common causes of hammertoe involve wearing improperly sized shoes and muscle imbalance in the toe but the condition can be acerbated by other factors as well. When shoes are worn that are designed to make your foot look smaller, such as those with narrow toes, they push the toes into a bent position. The pressure is increased when wearing high heels, causing the toes to rub against the shoe. Eventually, corns and calluses will develop on the toes and it will become increasingly difficult to straighten the toe when the shoes are off. This is also a contributing factor to the muscle imbalance in the toe. When the toe is held in a bent position for an extended period of time, the muscle required to straighten out the toe can become tight and incapable of straightening the toe.
Non-Surgical Treatment Options for Hammertoe
Hammertoe can be effectively treated using non-surgical means, and the earlier a patient accepts treatment, the more successful the treatment will be. Depending on the severity of the condition, conservative treatment options can include:
- Changing to a wider, more comfortable shoe with a shorter heel and a roomier toe box
- Cushions or non-medicated pads for the calluses and corns
- Toe exercises to help strengthen the muscles
When is Surgery Needed?
The longer a patient waits to seek treatment, the worse the hammertoe deformity will become and in some cases, it may not be able to be corrected through conservative means. If this is the case, then the surgeon may recommend a surgical procedure to correct the toe. The type of surgery is usually dictated by the severity of the condition, but most cases can be treated via an outpatient procedure with a local anesthetic.
Regardless of the case, you surgeon at Pennsylvania Foot and Ankle Associates will discuss all of the conservative and surgical treatment options available to you so you can make the most informed decision about your treatment plan.