A hammertoe is a condition where a toe bends downward instead of forward. It can affect any toe, although it most often affects the second or third toes. This condition ranges in severity with some cases resulting in rigidity where the toe can’t be moved or flexed and other patients still having some mobility in the toe joints. The hammer toe is often exposed to increased rubbing and friction which causes calluses and irritation of the skin. Hammer-toes are sometimes present at birth although they typically develop later in age due to wearing poorly fitting shoes or arthritis.
Hammer toes form when the muscles responsible for toe movement become imbalanced and pull the delicate bones of the feet out of alignment. This imbalance and misalignment puts a great deal of pressure on the joints and tendons, pushing the toe into the hammerhead shape. The excessive pressure on the joint is responsible for the pain associated with the condition. There are three common causes for the imbalance including arthritis, injuries, and genetics.
The podiatrists at the Foot & Ankle Specialists of New Jersey will usually begin with a conservative approach to treatment. They will suggest you change to shoes with adequate space available for the toes. The doctor may also suggest physical therapy exercises to stretch the toes and release the tendons that are pulling the bones out of alignment. In some cases, when a hammer-toe is especially severe, surgery may be required to reposition the toe, remove any deformed or injured bone, and realign the tendons. Surgery is usually prescribed only after less invasive treatments have not been effective. There are several different types of surgical techniques used to treat hammer toes depending on the condition of the toe’s muscles, tendons, and joint. Following surgery patients will have physical therapy given suggestions on the best styles of shoe to wear to protect their feet.