Hammer Toe is a type of foot deformity that chiefly occurs due to an imbalance in the muscles, tendons or ligaments that normally hold the toe straight causing it to bend or curl downward instead of pointing forward. It usually happens in the second or the third toe, although it can happen in any of the other toes and has an abnormal bend in the middle joint of a toe. It can be a birth defect or can occur over time due to arthritis or wearing ill-fitting shoes, such as tight, pointed heels, foot structure or certain trauma. Although, it is quite painful, it can be treated.
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In a healthy individual, a toe has two joints, that allows it to bend at the middle and bottom. In case of a hammer toe, the middle joint becomes flexed or bent downward. This deformity can happen due to the following factors:
- Unusually high foot arch
- Wearing ill-fitted shoes
- Trauma involving the toe
- Tightened ligaments or tendons in the foot
- Damage of the spinal cord or peripheral nerve that may cause all of your toes to curl downward
- Pressure from a bunion (a condition when your big slants inward towards the second toe)
Certain causative factors that increase the risk of hammer toe includes:
Age: The risk of hammertoe aggravates with age
Sex: Hammer toe is more commonly diagnosed in females than their male counterpart
Toe length: If your second toe is longer than your big toe, the risk of hammer toe increases
Other foot problems: Having calluses, bunions or corns increases the risk of developing hammer toe
Diseased condition: Health problems like arthritis and diabetes might make one more at risk of Hammer toe
Type Of Shoes: Wearing tight or pointy-toed shoes makes a person more prone to hammer toes
Signs And Symptoms
A hammer toe usually causes pain or discomfort while walking or when one is trying to stretch the affected toe or those around it. General signs and symptoms usually range from mild to severe and include:
- A toe that gets flexed or bends downward
- Difficulty while walking
- Inability or difficulty while flexing the foot or wiggling the toes
- Development of claw-like toes
- Occurrence of corns or calluses
Diagnosis And Treatment
If you develop any of the above-mentioned signs and symptoms, do consult a doctor right away. The doctor usually diagnoses a hammer toe while performing a physical exam. The doctor may also suggest or conduct an X-ray, if there is a bone, muscle, or ligament injury in your toe.
If the foot deformity is mild or in the initial stage and the toe is still flexible, the doctor can rectify a hammer toe that has occurred due to poorly fitted shoes by asking the patient to wear properly fitted roomier shoes. If a high arch has caused the condition, wearing toe pads or insoles inside the shoe can treat the condition. These toe pads or insoles chiefly work by shifting your toe’s position, which relieves pain and corrects the appearance of your toe.
In case of severe hammer toe, where the condition has turned into bunions or corns, the doctor can prescribe over-the-counter (OTC) cushions, pads, or medications. Additionally, the doctor might also suggest certain exercises to treat hammer toe — such as picking up marbles or crumpling a towel with your toes — to stretch and strengthen your toe muscles.
In case, if you have severe hammer toe where the toe cannot be flexed at all, the doctor may conduct a surgery to reposition the toe, remove deformed or injured bone, and realign your tendons and joints to restore movement.
Certain precautionary measures and lifestyle modifications can also rectify hammer or prevent it altogether. These include:
- Wearing shoes with adequate toe room
- Opting for low heel shoes to avoid low back problem