A Hammer toe is a deformity of the second, third or fourth toes. In this condition, the toe is bent at the middle joint, so that it resembles a hammer. Initially, hammer toes are flexible and can be corrected with simple measures but, if left untreated, they can become fixed and require surgery. People with hammer toe may have corns or calluses on the top of the middle joint of the toe or on the tip of the toe. They may also feel pain in their toes or feet and have difficulty finding comfortable shoes.
Shoes that narrow toward the toe force the smaller toes into a bent upward position. This makes the toes rub against the inside of the shoe, and creates corns and calluses, aggravating the toes further. If the shoes have a high heel, the feet are forced forward and down, squeezing the toes against the front of the shoe, which increases the pressure on the toes and makes them bend further. Eventually, the toe muscles become unable to straighten the toe.
The symptoms of hammertoe include a curling toe, pain or discomfort in the toes and ball of the foot or the front of the leg, especially when toes are stretched downward. Thickening of the skin above or below the affected toe with the formation of corns or calluses. Difficulty finding shoes that fit well. In its early stages, hammertoe is not obvious. Frequently, hammertoe does not cause any symptoms except for the claw-like toe shape.
The exam may reveal a toe in which the near bone of the toe (proximal phalanx) is angled upward and the middle bone of the toe points in the opposite direction (plantar flexed). Toes may appear crooked or rotated. The involved joint may be painful when moved, or stiff. There may be areas of thickened skin (corns or calluses) on top of or between the toes, a callus may also be observed at the tip of the hammertoe affected toe beneath the toenail. An attempt to passively correct the deformity will help elucidate the best treatment option as the examiner determines whether the toe is still flexible or not. It is advisable to assess palpable pulses, since their presence is associated with a good prognosis for healing after surgery. X-rays will demonstrate the contractures of the involved joints, as well as possible arthritic changes and bone enlargements (exostoses, spurs). X-rays of the involved foot are usually performed in a weight-bearing position.
Non Surgical Treatment
If the toes are still mobile enough that they are able to stretch out and lay flat, the doctor will likely suggest a change of footwear. In addition, she may choose to treat the pain that may result from the condition. The doctor may prescribe pads to ease the pain of any corns and calluses, and medications ranging from ibuprofen to steroid injections for the inflammation and pain. Other options for non-surgical treatments include orthotic devices to help with the tendon and muscle imbalance or splinting to help realign the toe. Splinting devices come in a variety of shapes and sizes but the purpose of each is the same: to stretch the muscles and tendon and flatten the joint to remove the pain and pressure that comes from corns.
Surgery is used when other types of treatment fail to relieve symptoms or for advanced cases of hammertoe. There are several types of surgeries to treat hammertoe. A small piece of bone may be removed from the joint (arthroplasty). The toe joint may be fused to straighten it (arthrodesis). Surgical hardware, such as a pin, may be used to hold the bones in place while they heal. Other types of surgery involve removing skin (wedging) or correcting muscles and tendons to balance the joint.