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There are two different types. Flexible hammertoes. These are less serious because they can be diagnosed and treated while still in the developmental stage. They are called flexible hammertoes because they are still moveable at the joint. Rigid Hammertoes. This Hammer toe variety is more developed and more serious than the flexible condition. Rigid hammertoes can be seen in patients with severe arthritis, for example, or in patients who wait too long to seek professional treatment. The tendons in a rigid hammertoe have become tight, and the joint misaligned and immobile, making surgery the usual course of treatment.
Hammer toe is most often caused by wearing compressive shoes. It might also be caused by the pressure from a bunion. A bunion is a corn on the top of a toe and a callus on the sole of the foot develop which makes walking painful. A high foot arch may also develop.
Symptoms of a hammertoe are usually first noticed as a corn on the top of the toe or at the tip which produces pain with walking or wearing tight shoes. Most people feel a corn is due to a skin problem on their toes, which in fact, it is protecting the underlying bone deformity. A corn on the toe is sometimes referred to as a heloma dura or heloma durum, meaning hard corn. This is most common at the level of the affected joint due to continuous friction of the deformity against your shoes.
First push up on the bottom of the metatarsal head associated with the affected toe and see if the toe straightens out. If it does, then an orthotic could correct the problem, usually with a metatarsal pad. If the toe does not straighten out when the metatarsal head is pushed up, then that indicates that contracture in the capsule and ligaments (capsule contracts because the joint was in the wrong position for too long) of the MTP joint has set in and surgery is required. Orthotics are generally required post-surgically.
Non Surgical Treatment
Conservative treatment is the first choice, often starting with a change of shoes to ones that have soft, larger toe spaces. Toe exercises may be prescribed to stretch and strengthen the toe muscles. Over-the-counter straps, cushions or non-medicated corn pads may be recommended to help relieve your symptoms.
Surgery may be the treatment of choice if conservative approaches prove unsuccessful. Usually performed as an outpatient procedure, the specific surgery will depend on the type and extent of injury to the toe. Recovery my take several days or weeks and you may experience some redness, stiffness and swelling of the affected toe. Your physician will recommend taking it easy and to keep your foot elevated while you recover.
Daily modifications and correct shoe choices can prevent and slow the progression of hammertoe deformities. The main cause in hammertoe deformities is muscle/tendon dysfunction. Wearing of ill-fitting, tight, high heeled shoes contributes to the progression to hammertoe deformities. Also, bunion conditions can enhance the formation of hammertoes. A key to prevention of hammertoes is the wearing of correct footwear, specifically shoes with appropriate support and a deep, wide toe box.