If you had a hammer, would you hammer in the morning or hammer in the evening? If you have hammertoes, the folk song’s lyrics actually ring true—you are indeed stuck with them morning, noon, and night and are likely suffering from painful symptoms all day long as well. Just because your toes are bent out of shape, though, doesn’t mean you have to be as well! Prompt treatment will help ease discomfort and keep the condition from getting worse.
This deformity is most often seen in the second, third, and fourth toes. The middle joints bend in an abnormal way, causing the joint to push upward while the toe pushes down, resembling the shape of a hammer, and thus the name. Because of their bent positions, the tops of the joints and tips of the toes often develop corns from added pressure and friction. This can make it difficult and painful to wear shoes. Unfortunately, the condition is progressive and will only worsen over time. Your digits may start out flexible but, if left untreated, they will become rigid and stuck in the abnormal position.
Most commonly, the cause of hammertoes is a muscle and tendon imbalance due to structural issues with your feet. Shoes that are too tight can add to the problem by cramping and bending toes for too long. This can tighten muscles and make it difficult to straighten them. Continued use of tight, narrow, or high-heeled shoes will aggravate the condition and contribute to the development of corns. At the first signs of contracture, pain, or corns and calluses, seek treatment. The sooner you do, the more likely symptoms can be managed with non-invasive methods.
The first plan of attack is to switch shoes. Choose styles that have plenty of room up front for your toes. There should be about a half of an inch between your longest toe and the end of the shoe, and they should be wide enough and deep enough to feel comfortable right away. Avoid pointy, narrow pairs that can squish your digits and resist wearing high heels—the angle puts too much pressure on your forefoot. For added cushion and protection, place padding over corns to remove pressure and irritation. Orthotic inserts may help with the underlying muscle imbalance. Oral and/or injected medications can aid in reducing pain and inflammation, while splints and strapping can be used to return the toes to their normal, straightened positions and hold them there.
If these conservative measures don’t work, or the condition has gone on so long that your digits are rigid, surgery will be the only means of straightening your hammertoes.
If your toes seem to be getting bent out of shape, get to California Foot & Ankle Institute as soon as you can. We can help stop the progression and get them back into tip-top shape instead! Just call (949) 833-3406 for our Irvine office or (760) 951-2000 for our Victorville location. You can also reach us online or by dialing our toll free number: (888) 796-6631. At California Foot and Ankle Institute, your hammertoes can be healthy toes in no time.