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What are Hammertoes?

A hammertoe is a bone deformity causing the toes to bend at either one or two of the joints of the toe. This usually occurs in the all the toes (second, third, fourth or fifth toes) except the big toe. It is recommended to diagnose and treat hammertoes as early as possible since the condition usually worsens as times go by. Treating it later will be more complicated and require more invasive treatment.

Causes of Hammertoes

Hammertoes occur due to a biomechanical malfunction of the muscles and tendon in the toes which prevent them from being straight. However, there are other factors that can lead to the progression of the deformity such as ill-fitting shoes, injury to the toes or neurological changes in the foot. Some people are just born with this type of toe structure.

Hammertoes are more prevalent in:

  • Women rather than men. Women wearing high heels and narrow shoes further exacerbates the problem.
  • People who suffer from arthritis and diabetes.
  • A foot structure with a Morton’s toe where the second toe is longer than the big toe.
  • Age. Older individuals may develop hammer toes more.
  • Individuals who wear shoes that are too short and tight for their foot.

What are the Symptoms of Hammertoes?

A foot with a Hammertoe deformity will often experience pain around the bent joints, in addition to pain from toe movement. Since the affected toes protrude upwards and sideways, they may rub against other digits and develop thickened skin for protection known as calluses and corns. These may form on the joint, between the toes or on the ball of foot area. The area may also become inflamed and swollen because of the pressure and rubbing.

Treatment of Hammertoes

A medical provider can diagnose a hammertoe by means of a physical evaluation and or x-rays of the foot. In mild cases, Hammertoes can be addressed by making simple lifestyle changes, while more severe cases may require surgical treatment.

  • Wearing shoes for hammertoes is the first step to addressing the deformity. The best Hammertoe shoes should have the following features:
    • Wide toe box provides plenty of space for unrestricted toe movement and will prevent overlapping and rubbing against others.
    • Extra depth from the heel to toe ensures a pressure free fit.
    • Ergonomic sole with mild rocker bottom propels the foot forward and facilitates foot motion.
    • Wide width options from orthopedic footwear companies offer shoes in wide, extra wide and even extra-extra-wide for a comfortable and pain free fit.
    • Styles made from stretch fabric uppers conform to the contours of the feet and offer a customized fit across the hammertoe and forefoot area.
  • Size matters. Even the best hammertoe shoes will not help the condition if they are not the correct size for your feet. The correct shoe size should have at least ½” of extra space between the longest toe and the tip of the shoe. The best time to try on shoes is at the end of the day when feet are most swollen (and longer) from the day’s activities.
  • Insoles. If the shoes you wear are not designed with an orthotic insole, it is best to insert one in them if there is enough space to accommodate it. Insoles constructed from multi-layers and an anatomical arch provide shock absorption and biomechanically align the body to help straighten the toes and prevent progression.
  • Daily exercises and stretching of the foot and toes can help improve mobility and flexibility. Picking up small objects with the toes and manually stretching them are examples of what you can do at home every day.
  • Cortisone injections may ease painful hammer toes.
  • In severe cases, surgery can be performed to relieve hammertoe pain if all other treatment options are not successf

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