Uneven muscle tension results in the distortion of one or several of the small toes. (hammertoe) Pressure points develop at the raised middle joint as well as at the tip of the toe and underneath the metatarsal head. In the beginning, when the misalignment can still be corrected, it often suffices to lengthen the tendon and to cut a notch into the capsule. In a contracted misalignment, part of the middle joint is removed to form a replacement joint. Modern surgical techniques preserve the metatarsophalangeal joint (Weil or Helal osteotomies).
Claw, hammer and mallet toe are most commonly caused by wearing high heels or ill-fitting shoes that are too tight e.g. narrow toebox. If shoes like this are worn for long periods, the foot is held in a slightly bent position and gradually over time, the muscles tighten and shorten. If this continues for long enough, then the muscles become so tight that even when shoes are removed, the toe is still held in the bent position. Another common cause is Morton?s Toe, where the second toe is longer than the big toe. In this case, the second toe is commonly squashed into a shoe into an unnaturally bent position.
The symptoms of a hammer toe are usually first noticed when a corn develops on the top of the toe and becomes painful, usually when wearing tight shoes. There may be a bursa under the corn or instead of a corn, depending on the pressure. Most of the symptoms are due to pressure from footwear on the toe. There Hammer toes may be a callus under the metatarsal head at the base of the toe. Initially a hammer toe is usually flexible, but when longstanding it becomes more rigid.
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
A number of approaches can be undertaken to the manage a hammer toe. It is important that any footwear advice is followed. The correct amount of space in the toe box will allow room for the toes to function without excessive pressure. If a corn is present, this will need to be treated. If the toe is still flexible, it may be possible to use splints or tape to try and correct the toe. Without correct fitting footwear, this is often unsuccessful. Padding is often used to get pressure off the toe to help the symptoms. If conservative treatment is unsuccessful at helping the symptoms, surgery is often a good option.
Sometimes surgery can not be avoided. If needed, the surgery chosen is decided by whether we are dealing with a flexible or rigid hammer toe. If the surgery is on a flexible hammer toe, it is performed on soft tissue structures like the tendon and or capsule of the flexor hammer toe. Rigid hammer toes need bone surgeries into the joint of the toe to repair it. This bone surgery is called an arthroplasty.
Preventative treatment of hammertoe is directed toward the cause of the deformity. A functional orthotic is a special insert that can be prescribed by your podiatrist to address the abnormal functioning of the foot that causes the hammertoe. Functional orthotics can be thought of as contact lenses for your feet. They correct a number of foot problems that are caused by an abnormally functioning foot. Our feet, much like our eyes, change with time. Functional orthotics slow down or halt this gradual change in the foot. Often when orthotics are used for flexible hammertoes, the toes will overtime straighten out and correct themselves. Calf stretching exercises are also helpful. Calf stretching can help to overcome part of the muscle imbalance that causes the hammertoe.