Hammer, claw, and mallet toes are toes that do not have the right shape. They may look odd or may hurt, or both. Tight shoes are the most common cause of these toe problems. A hammertoes is a toe that bends down toward the floor at the middle toe joint. It usually happens in the second toe. This causes the middle toe joint to rise up. Hammer toes often occur with bunions. Claw toe often happens in the four smaller toes at the same time. The toes bend up at the joints where hammertoes the toes and the foot meet. They bend down at both the middle joints and at the joints nearest the tip of the toes. This causes the toes to curl down toward the floor. A mallet toe often happens to the second toe, but it may happen in the other toes as well. The toe bends down at the joint closest to the tip of the toe.
Most hammertoes are caused by wearing ill-fitting, tight or high-heeled shoes over a long period of time. Shoes that don’t fit well can crowd the toes, putting pressure on the middle toes and causing them to curl downward. The condition may be more likely when the second toe is longer than the first toe or when the arch of the foot is flat. Hammertoe can also be present at birth (congenital). Hammertoe also can be caused by a bunion, which is the knobby bump that sometimes develops at the side of the big toe. A bunion causes the big toe to bend toward the other toes. The big toe can then overlap and crowd the smaller toes. Occasionally, a hammertoe is inherited or caused by arthritis in the toe joint.
A hammertoe may be present but not always painful unless irritated by shoes. One may have enlarged toe joints with some thickened skin and no redness or swelling. However, if shoes create pressure on the joint, the pain will usually range from pinching and squeezing to sharp and burning. In long standing conditions, the dislocated joints can cause the pain of arthritis.
Although hammertoes are readily apparent, to arrive at a diagnosis the foot and ankle surgeon will obtain a thorough history of your symptoms and examine your foot. During the physical examination, the doctor may attempt to reproduce your symptoms by manipulating your foot and will study the contractures of the toes. In addition, the foot and ankle surgeon may take x-rays to determine the degree of the deformities and assess any changes that may have occurred.
Non Surgical Treatment
There are many non-surgical treatments to help relieve symptoms of hammertoe. The first step for many people is wearing the right size and type of shoe. Low-heeled shoes with a boxy or roomy toe area are helpful. Cushioned insoles, customized orthopedic inserts, and pads can provided relief as well. Splints or straps may be used to help correct toe position. Your doctor may show you toe stretches and exercises to perform. Your doctor can safely remove corns and calluses. You should not try to remove them at home.
Laser surgery is popular for cosmetic procedures, however, for hammer toe surgery it does not offer any advantage to traditional methods. Laser is useful for soft tissues (not bone), and because hammer toe surgery involves bone procedures, it is not effective. For cosmetic hammer toe surgery, patients should look for surgeons experienced in aesthetic foot surgery.
The best treatment is good prevention! Hammertoe can be prevented by wearing shoes with ample toe room, avoiding high heels, and wearing adjustable shoes to assure a looser fit. When buying shoes, shop at the end of the day when your feet are swollen from daily activity, try both shoes on to confirm they fit properly, and if necessary, visit a shoe repair store to see if they can stretch your shoes for a better fit.