Hammer Toe: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments & Self-care Tips for This Foot Deformity by Dr. Sophia Solomon
A hammer toe is a deformity where the toe is curled downward. These deformities usually start off as flexible but become painful or stiff over time making fitting into shoes difficult. People often develop corns or calluses on their toes, which causes more pain.
Foot doctors frequently get asked to explain why they suddenly have this deformity that they never had before. The answer is complicated to understand, but it is important to know that your toes are kept straight by multiple muscles that connect all around the toe. If one muscle group starts to overpower the other, your toe can become bent. We frequently see hammer toes develop in those who have other foot deformities, specifically, with flat foot, tight calf muscles and a high-arch foot.
Causes of Hammer Toe
Hammer toe can develop for a variety of reasons. Your foot structure, some diseases and even the shoes you wear can lead to these conditions. The most common causes of hammer toe include:
- Shoes: Wearing high-heeled shoes or shoes that don’t have enough room in the toe box can cause your toes to be so crowded that they can’t lie flat. If your toes are in this position too much, they can eventually stay that way.
- Abnormal Balance of Toe Muscles: This leads to instability of your foot, which can cause the muscles of your toe to contract.
- Trauma: Any injury that introduces blunt force to your toe – whether you stub, jam or break it – makes it more likely that hammer toe or mallet toe develops.
Symptoms of Hammer Toe
If you have hammer toe or mallet toe, your joints may be difficult to bend. Certain shoes may cause pain due to the joint rubbing on the top of your shoes. The joints may be painful even when you’re barefoot.
If the pain is persistent and it becomes difficult to walk, it is time to see a good podiatry doctor for a diagnosis. Diagnosing hammer toe or mallet toe may be a simple matter of examining your foot. Your foot doctor may order X-rays to do a compete evaluation of the bones and joints in your foot.
Preparing for Your Appointment
Your primary care physician may refer you to a good podiatrist for specialized treatment. Before your appointment, make a list of all your symptoms, even those that you might think are unrelated to your feet. Your foot doctor will take a complete medical history, but you should be prepared to ask questions, too:
- Do any of my medications, including supplements and doses, affect my feet?
- What’s causing my foot pain and what can I do about it?
- What can I do to avoid hammer toe surgery or should I see a foot surgeon?
- Is this a temporary condition?
- What’s the best thing to do right now?
Hammer Toe Treatments
Depending upon the flexibility of your affected toes, your doctor may suggest that you wear shoes with more room for your toes. You may benefit from wearing orthotics, too. You can also try foot pads that cushion and reposition your toe to relieve pressure and pain. A podiatrist may also recommend physical therapy to help alleviate your symptoms.
If these conservative treatments and exercises don’t help ease your discomfort, your foot doctor may suggest surgery as a last resort. Surgery releases the tight tendon that’s preventing your toe from lying flat. A podiatry doctor may have to remove a piece of bone to help straighten your toe.
Self-care for Hammer Toe
When you have hammer toe or mallet toe, wear proper footwear. Always wear low-heeled shoes with a wide toe box. Your shoes should also have flexible material over your toes to accommodate your toes comfortably and give them room to stretch. Make sure your shoes have at least a half inch of space between the tip of your longest toe and the inside front of your shoe.
Also avoid over-the-counter medicated corn removal products; they often contain acid, which can irritate your skin. Don’t attempt to shave or remove corns from a toe yourself. Foot wounds can become infected easily, and they’re difficult to treat. Healing can be slow, especially if you have diabetes or poor circulation. Corn removal should be handled by a podiatrist.
Hammer Toe Prevention
You can avoid ankle, heel and foot pain simply by wearing shoes that fit correctly. When buying footwear, follow these guidelines for proper fit:
- Leave room for your toes: Avoid shoes with pointed toes, whether flats or high-heeled.
- Wear low heels: Wearing low heels also helps prevent back problems and tight calves.
- Opt for flexibility: Shoes with laces or straps have more room and are adjustable.
The information on 30Seconds.com is for informational and entertainment purposes only, and should not be considered medical advice. The information provided through this site should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease, and is not a substitute for professional care. Always consult your personal healthcare provider.
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