Hammer toe affects both joints of a toe, causing the toe to bend upwards at the proximal joint (the joint closest to the foot) and down at the distal joint (the one farthest away from the foot). The resulting unnatural bend is often compared to an upside down "V" and also to a hammer or a claw (The condition is sometimes referred to as clawtoe or clawfoot). A similar condition, in which the first joint of a toe simply bends downward, is called mallet toe. Since the arched bending of hammertoe often causes the toe to rub against the top of the shoe's toe box and against the sole, painful corns and calluses develop on the toes. Hammertoe can also be a result of squeezing within a too-small or ill-fitting shoe or wearing high heels that jam your toes into a tight toe box inside your shoe, arthritis, trauma and muscle and nerve damage from diseases such as diabetes. Probably because of the tight-shoe and high-heel shoe factors, hammertoe tends to occur far more often in women than in men.
Shoes that narrow toward the toe force the smaller toes into a bent upward position. This makes the toes rub against the inside of the shoe, and creates corns and calluses, aggravating the toes further. If the shoes have a high heel, the feet are forced forward and down, squeezing the toes against the front of the shoe, which increases the pressure on the toes and makes them bend further. Eventually, the toe muscles become unable to straighten the toe.
People with a hammer toe will often find that a corn or callus will develop on the top of the toe, where it rubs against the top of the footwear. This can be painful when pressure is applied or when anything rubs on it. The affected joint may also be painful and appear swollen.
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
Treating hammertoe involves straightening the toe, making tendons in the toes flexible again, and preventing the problem from returning. Some simple treatments include hammertoes Soaking your feet every day in warm water, then stretching your toes and ankles by pointing your toes. Using over-the-counter pads, cushions or straps to decrease discomfort. Splinting the toe to keep it straight and to stretch the tendons of the foot. Exercising the toes to relax the foot tendons (a session with a physical therapist may help you get started with foot exercises). One simple exercise is to place a small towel on the floor and then pick it up using only your toes. You also can grasp at carpet with your toes or curl your toes up and down repeatedly. Wearing shoes that fit properly and give toes plenty of room to stretch out.
In advanced cases in which the toe has become stiff and permanently bent, the toe can be straightened with surgery. One type of surgery involves removing a small section of the toe bone to allow the toe to lie flat. Surgery for hammertoe usually is classified as a cosmetic procedure. Cosmetic foot surgeries sometimes result in complications such as pain or numbness, so it's better to treat the problem with a shoe that fits properly.
Although these following preventative tips may be able to reverse a painful bunion or hammertoe deformity, they are more effective when applied to young people, and are less effective the longer a person has progressed with their bunion or hammertoe deformity. This is because the joints in our bodies get used to the positions they are most frequently held in, and our feet are no different, with our 12 to 15 hours a day in restrictive footwear, with tapering toeboxes, heel elevation, and toespring.