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Hammer toe


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Hammer toe is a deformity in the toe wherein the toes resemble “hammer head” and it derives the name from that bent downward appearance. Any toe can become hammer toe, although the middle three toes are most commonly seen to have this kind of deformity.


Types of hammer toes

Flexible: The complexity in the tendons is mild as the toe joint is flexible; therefore, rendering movement.

Rigid: The tendons and ligament present in the toes become so stiff, making the toes absolutely rigid. The toes cannot move in this case.


Causes of hammer toes

The deformity occurs when your toe muscles fails to work in co-ordination. This further affects movement in your ligament and tendons- which tend to get shorted. As a result the toes bend downwards like claws.

Common factors that lead to formation of hammer toes are:

  • Wearing high heels, tight or close fitting shows that cram your toes tightly
  • Side effect of genetically inherited conditions like high arch or flat feet
  • From arthritis, diabetes, stroke or any nerve problems
  • Trauma or injury in feet or toes 
Women are more prone to having hammer toes because of wearing ill fitting shoes.


Symptoms of hammer toes

Since the middle joint of the toe bends down, your toes especially the second toe. Sometimes that toe becomes completely static while in other cases even if there’s movement, it’s quite painful.

Since there’s lot of friction with the ground corns and calluses develop very often. Regular walking might become painful with some degree of limping.


When to see a doctor

If the toe is hindering your day-to-day activity because of the pain or you are unable to wear shoes then you must see a doctor.


Diagnosis of hammer toe

You need to visit an orthopedic surgeon to get your toe diagnosed. Your doctor will check the deformity it your toes and evaluate the range of movement. Let your doctor know if you are having pain or difficulty while walking.

Following this, you have to undergo X ray which will help determine the condition of the affected ligaments, tendons, muscles and joints of the concerned toe.


Treatment of hammer toe

After proper diagnosis your doctor will explain the type of treatment suitable for your correcting your hammer toe.

If it’s a mild deformity then your doctor will give you orthotics or shoe inserts, toe splints and pads that would help proper alignment of your toes and relieve you from the pain and pressure. The orthotics are usually custom made.

You have to buy new pair of shoes with soft soles, having enough room for movement of your feet.

Additionally, anti-inflammatory medicines or pain killers would be given to manage swelling, pain and discomfort.

Your doctor will show you physiotherapy exercises that involve stretching the toes with moving your feet to regain flexibility eventually. A common exercise is- trying to pick a marble or a towel from the floor with the hammer toe.

Corrective surgery might also be considered by your doctor which basically are of 3 types viz. joint resection, bone mending procedure and toe relocation surgery. It takes at least 6 weeks to recover from the surgery.


Preventing hammer toes

  • Never make wearing high heels a regular affair or opt for fashion over comfort. Choose soft and roomy shoes.
  • Perform some toe exercises daily – like moving your toes in circular motion or up and down for 10 minutes
  • Watch your toes and feet every day if you have diabetes or arthritis.

Written by: healthplus24.com team
Date last updated: October 27, 2014