Hammertoe is a condition caused by the joints of the metatarsal and phalanges contracting and bending the toe into an arched position that resembles a hammer. A common cause of hammertoe is a tight toe box in shoes, typically found with high heels that may be too small. The size, angle, and structure of the shoes force the toes into a compromised position, causing poor circulation, restricted movement, plus aggravation to the bones and ligaments in the foot and toes. Trauma is also a cause of hammertoes, and heredity may play a factor.
Early stages of hammertoe are mild, and the compromised joints are still flexible. At this stage, non-surgical treatment and appropriate footwear can help. Without treatment, however, the condition will worsen and joints will become stiff and inflexible. At that point, surgery is the only option.
Earliest stages are unsightly and uncomfortable but may not yet resemble the curved appearance of later stages. The appearance of hammertoe and its distinct shape is an indicator.
Symptoms of hammertoe include:
- Wearing shoes causes pain and irritation on toes.
- Corns and calluses appear between two toes, the ball of the foot, or on an affected toe that rubs against the shoe.
- Long-term friction also can cause open sores on toes.
- Burning sensation and a red, and inflammed appearance.
- Curved appearance that progresses if left untreated.
- Stiff, inflexible joints.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Early stages of hammertoe may appear as simple foot problems, but the curved appearance indicates a condition that must be treated or it will worsen.
A foot and ankle surgeon or podiatrist will review your symptoms and thoroughly examine your toes and foot. Manipulation of foot and toes and degree of toe contraction will show whether the toe joint is flexible or rigid. X-rays may be required to diagnose how severe the toe or toes are deformed.
Early stage hammertoe may be treated non-surgically with better-fitting shoes, therapy, splint, tapes, and orthotics. If surgery is required, your surgeon may recommend one or more procedures to restore toes to their proper alignment and functionality.