Essentially, there's one consistent type of Hammer toe, the condition in which your toes are contracted into a hammer or upside-down "V" shape. However, depending on its severity, hammertoe is characterized into two forms. Flexible hammertoe is hammertoe in which the joints of the toes are still moveable or flexible and can be treated with nonsurgical therapies. Rigid hammertoe is the more serious condition in which the joints' muscles and tendons have lost any flexibility and the contraction cannot be corrected by nonsurgical means. As a result, surgery is generally required to deal with the problem. This is why it's important to consult a physician as soon as the problem is recognized for the possibility of successful nonsurgical treatment.
Hammertoes are most common in women, and a big part of this is poor shoe choices, which are a big factor in the development of many foot problems. Tight toe boxes and high heels are the biggest culprits. Genetics certainly plays a role in some cases of hammertoes, as does trauma, infection, arthritis, and certain neurological and muscle disorders. But most cases of contracted toes are associated with various biomechanical abnormalities in how a patient walks. This causes the muscles and tendons to be used excessively or improperly, which deforms the toes over time.
Patients with hammer toe(s) may develop pain on the top of the toe(s), tip of the toe, and/or on the ball of the foot. Excessive pressure from shoes may result in the formation of a hardened portion of skin (corn or callus) on the knuckle and/or ball of the foot. Some people may not recognize that they have a hammer toe, rather they identity the excess skin build-up of a corn.The toe(s) may become irritated, red, warm, and/or swollen. The pain may be dull and mild or severe and sharp. Pain is often made worse by shoes, especially shoes that crowd the toes. While some hammer toes may result in significant pain, others may not be painful at all. Painful toes can prevent you from wearing stylish shoes.
Most health care professionals can diagnose hammertoe simply by examining your toes and feet. X-rays of the feet are not needed to diagnose hammertoe, but they may be useful to look for signs of some types of arthritis (such as rheumatoid arthritis) or other disorders that can cause hammertoe. If the deformed toe is very painful, your doctor may recommend that you have a fluid sample withdrawn from the joint with a needle so the fluid can be checked for signs of infection or gout (arthritis from crystal deposits).
Non Surgical Treatment
Apply a commercial, non-medicated hammer toe pad around the bony prominence of the hammer toe to decrease pressure on the area. Wear a shoe with a deep toe box. If the hammer toe becomes inflamed and painful, apply ice packs several times a day to reduce swelling. Avoid heels more than two inches tall. A loose-fitting pair of shoes can also help protect the foot while reducing pressure on the affected toe, making walking a little easier until a visit to your podiatrist can be arranged. While this treatment will make the hammer toe feel better, it is important to remember that it does not cure the condition. A trip to the podiatrist's office will be necessary to repair the toe to allow for normal foot function. Avoid wearing shoes that are too tight or narrow. Children should have their shoes properly fitted on a regular basis, as their feet can often outgrow their shoes rapidly.
If you are unable to flex your toe, surgery is the only option to restore movement. Surgery is used to reposition the toe, remove deformed or injured bone, and realign your tendons. Surgery is normally done on an outpatient basis, so you can return home on the day of your surgery.
Walking barefoot increases the risk for injury and infection. Being on your feet throughout the day can cause them to swell, this is the best time to buy shoes to get a better fit. Do not buy shoes that feel tight. Do not buy shoes that ride up and down your heel as you walk. The ball of your foot should fit into the widest part of the shoe. Remember, the higher the heel the less safe the shoe will be. Avoid shoes with pointed or narrow toes. If the shoes hurt, do not wear them. If you start noticing the beginning signs of hammer toes, you may still be able to prevent the tendons from tightening by soaking your feet every day in warm water, wearing toe friendly shoes, and performing foot exercises such as stretching your toes and ankles. A simple exercise such as placing a small towel on the floor and then picking hammertoes it up using only your toes can help to restore the flexibility of tendons.