Hammertoes usually start out as mild deformities and get progressively worse over time. In the earlier stages, hammertoes are flexible and the symptoms can often be managed with changes in shoe styles and foot care products. But if left untreated, hammertoes can become more rigid and painful. Corns are more likely to develop as time goes on-and corns never really go away, even after trimming. In more severe cases of Hammer toes, corn lesions may evolve into severe ulcerations. These lesions frequently occur in patients who have vascular disease or are Diabetic with neuropathy. The ulcerations can extend to the bone and result in infection and possible loss of digit or amputation.
Certain risk factors increase your likelihood of developing a hammertoe. These include a family history of hammertoes, wearing tight or pointy-toed shoes, wearing shoes that are too small, having calluses, bunions, or corns (thickened layers of skin caused by prolonged/repeated friction) Wearing shoes that are too small can force the joint of your toes into a dislocated position. This makes it impossible for your muscles to stretch out. Over time, the practice of wearing improperly fitting shoes increases your risk of developing hammertoes, blisters, bunions, and corns.
For some people, a hammer toe is nothing more than an unsightly deformity that detracts from the appearance of the foot. However, discomfort may develop if a corn or callus develops on the end or top of the toe. If pressure and friction continue on the end or top of the toe, a painful ulcer may develop. Discomfort or pain can lead to difficulty walking.
The exam may reveal a toe in which the near bone of the toe (proximal phalanx) is angled upward and the middle bone of the toe points in the opposite direction (plantar flexed). Toes may appear crooked or rotated. The involved joint may be painful when moved, or stiff. There may be areas of thickened skin (corns or calluses) on top of or between the toes, a callus may also be observed at the tip of the affected toe beneath the toenail. An attempt to passively correct the deformity will help elucidate the best treatment option as the examiner determines whether the toe is still flexible or not. It is advisable to assess palpable pulses, since their presence is associated with a good prognosis for healing after surgery. X-rays will demonstrate the contractures of the involved joints, as well as possible arthritic changes and bone enlargements (exostoses, spurs). X-rays of the involved foot are usually performed in a weight-bearing position.
Non Surgical Treatment
A person with hammer toes will be asked to practice some exercises for their toes to regain average structure and movement. The exercises usually involve stretching and strengthening their toes. The person may attempt to pick things up off the floor using only their toes. They may also stretch their toes on a regular basis by hand to ease them into straightening out. Another example of a physical exercise specifically for a person’s toes involves crumpling a towel with the toes. The towel can lie underneath the person’s feet and the person can use their toes to scrunch up the towel as they perform simple tasks such as reading a book or watching television.
Surgical correction is needed to bring the toe into a corrected position and increase its function. Correction of the hammer toes is a simple outpatient surgery, with limited downtime. The best option is to fuse the deformed and contracted toe into a straight position. This limits the need for future surgery and deformity return. A new pin that absorbs in the bone or small screw is used by the Foot and hammertoe Ankle Institute to avoid the need for a metal pin protruding from the toe during recovery. Although the absorbable pin is not for everyone, it is much more comfortable than the pin protruding from the end of the toe. In certain cases, a removal of a small area of bone in the deformity area will decrease pain and limit the need for a surgical waiting period that is found with fusions. Although the toe is not as stable as with a fusion, in certain cases, an arthroplasty is the best option.
Plainly put, most toe deformities are caused by footwear. If you wish to avoid bunions or hammertoes, or works towards reversing them, please choose your footwear that has a low heel, and is wide enough in the toebox to spread you toes. Your podiatrist or therapist can help with the manipulation exercises. Bunion splints are available.