A Hammer toe is a toe that becomes permanently bent in the middle so that the end of the toe points downward. The portion of the toe before the joint where the bend occurs tends to arch upward. A hammer toe takes years to develop. Once the toe becomes permanently bent, corns or calluses may form. Treatment helps control symptoms in many people, but surgery is sometimes needed to straighten the toe.
It is possible to be born with a hammer toe, however many people develop the deformity later in life. Common causes include tightened tendons that cause the toe to curl downward. Nerve injuries or problems with the spinal cord. Stubbing, jamming or breaking a toe. Having a stroke. Being a diabetic. Having a second toe that is longer than the big toe. Wearing high heels or tight shoes that crowd the toes and don?t allow them to lie flat. Aging.
The most obvious sign of hammertoes are bent toes, other symptoms may include pain and stiffness during movement of the toe. Painful corns hammertoes on the tops of the toe or toes from rubbing against the top of the shoe's toe box. Painful calluses on the bottoms of the toe or toes. Pain on the bottom of the ball of the foot. Redness and swelling at the joints.
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 number of approaches can be undertaken to the manage a hammer toe. It is important that any footwear advice is followed. The correct amount of space in the toe box will allow room for the toes to function without excessive pressure. If a corn is present, this will need to be treated. If the toe is still flexible, it may be possible to use splints or tape to try and correct the toe. Without correct fitting footwear, this is often unsuccessful. Padding is often used to get pressure off the toe to help the symptoms. If conservative treatment is unsuccessful at helping the symptoms, surgery is often a good option.
The deformity is corrected in a variety of ways. There are actually a large number of procedures. The simplest procedure would involve a Tenotomy, the cutting of the tendon causing the deformity or a Tendon Lengthening procedure. These procedures are infrequently done, though, as the structural deformity (the arthritis and joint adaptation) is not addressed with these surgeries. Other soft-tissue procedures involve rebalancing the tendons around the joint. There are several techniques to do this, but the most common is probably the Girdlestone-Taylor procedure, which involves rerouting the tendons on the bottom of the toe up and over the toe where it sticks up, so that the tendon helps pull the toe downwards into proper alignment.
Early Development. The first year of life is important for foot development. Parents should cover their babies' feet loosely, allowing plenty of opportunity for kicking and exercise. Change the child's position frequently. Children generally start to walk at 10 - 18 months. They should not be forced to start walking early. Wearing just socks or going barefoot indoors helps the foot develop normally and strongly and allows the toes to grasp. Going barefoot outside, however, increases the risk for injury and other conditions, such as plantar warts. Children should wear shoes that are light and flexible, and since their feet tend to perspire, their shoes should be made of materials that breathe. Replace footwear every few months as the child's feet grow. Footwear should never be handed down. Protect children's feet if they participate in high-impact sports.