Each toe, except for the big toe, has three joints. Sometimes, the middle joint of either the second, third, fourth, or fifth toe becomes deformed, causing the tip of the toe to bend and face downwards. This abnormal bending of the toe is referred to as hammertoe.
Symptoms of Hammertoe
- An abnormal bend in the second, third, fourth, or fifth toe
- Pain or irritation when wearing shoes
- Developing corns and/or calluses on the affected toe
- Inflammation and/or redness of the affected toe
A hammertoe typically starts off mild but can become worse over time if left untreated or if treated improperly. If the hammertoe progresses and worsens, open sores may develop on the toe, which can lead to infection.
Causes of Hammertoe
Common causes of hammertoe include:
- Wearing shoes, such as high heels, that are too tight and force your toes to bend
- Abnormal length to the toe
- Injury to the toe
- An imbalance of muscles in the toe or foot that cause the toe to bend
- Arthritis or Diabetes
Initially, mild hammertoe symptoms can be managed and the toe remains flexible. However, as symptoms persist and worsen, the toe may become rigid and unable to extend. If you have hammertoe symptoms that persist, pain that worsens, or if you find walking properly to be painful, make an appointment with a podiatric surgeon.
What to Expect at Your Appointment
During your appointment, your doctor will first examine your foot and toes for signs and symptoms of hammertoe. In order to confirm a hammertoe diagnosis, your doctor will request that you get an X-ray image of your foot to uncover any abnormalities in the bone structure.
Non-surgical Treatments for Hammertoe
Your podiatrist will determine which treatment options are best for you depending on your age, the severity of symptoms, conclusions drawn from an x-ray exam, and other factors.
If symptoms are mild, your doctor may recommend conservative treatment options to release the toe muscles, such as:
- Wearing shoes that are looser and have more room in the toe
- Using orthotics or custom shoe inserts to reposition the toe and relieve pressure
Surgical Treatment for Hammertoes and Post-treatment
If you are unable to extend your toe and a hammertoe is affecting your ability to walk comfortably and correctly, your doctor may recommend surgery.Hammertoe surgery releases the bent position of the toe, reduces pain and discomfort, and increases the overall function of the toe and foot.
Recovery from hammertoe surgery can take several weeks. Your doctor may give you a special shoe or boot to wear to protect your toe as well as require that you rest your foot during this time. After surgery, your doctor may recommend that you do stretches and exercises with your toe to increase mobility and function.
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