The term Hammer toe describes three unique contracture deformities of the toes. The deformities differ by the location of contracture in each joint of the toe. The three deformities include hammer toe, claw toe and mallet toe. Hammer toes may be flexible or rigid. Hammer toes are most common on the lesser toes (2-5) and may affect one or more toes simultaneously. Hallux malleus is the term used to described a hammer toe of the great toe. Hallux malleus is often found as an isolated foot problem. Hammer toes are found equally in men and women. The onset of hammer toes is between the ages of 30 and 80 years of age.
Some causes of hammertoe are shoes that are too tight or short, shoes with high heels, injury, Diseases that affect the nerves and muscles, such as arthritis and diabetes. When shoes do not fit well, over time the pressure of the shoes pushes the toes into a bent position. After a while, the muscles become unable to straighten the toe, even when you are not wearing shoes. Similarly, when there is damage or disease of the nerves or muscles in the toes, the toe may rest in the bent position until the tendons become permanently shortened and the toe becomes a rigid hammertoe. The risk of developing a hammertoe increases with age. Women are much more likely to develop a hammertoe than men.
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.
Most health care professionals can diagnose hammertoe simply by examining your toes and feet. X-rays of the feet are not needed to diagnose hammertoe, but they may be useful to look for signs of some types of arthritis (such as rheumatoid arthritis) or other disorders that can cause hammertoe. If the deformed Hammer toes toe is very painful, your doctor may recommend that you have a fluid sample withdrawn from the joint with a needle so the fluid can be checked for signs of infection or gout (arthritis from crystal deposits).
Non Surgical Treatment
There is a variety of treatment options for hammertoe. The treatment your foot and ankle surgeon selects will depend upon the severity of your hammertoe and other factors. A number of non-surgical measures can be undertaken. Padding corns and calluses. Your foot and ankle surgeon can provide or prescribe pads designed to shield corns from irritation. If you want to try over-the-counter pads, avoid the medicated types. Medicated pads are generally not recommended because they may contain a small amount of acid that can be harmful. Consult your surgeon about this option. Changes in shoewear. Avoid shoes with pointed toes, shoes that are too short, or shoes with high heels, conditions that can force your toe against the front of the shoe. Instead, choose comfortable shoes with a deep, roomy toe box and heels no higher than two inches. Orthotic devices. A custom orthotic device placed in your shoe may help control the muscle/tendon imbalance. Injection therapy. Corticosteroid injections are sometimes used to ease pain and inflammation caused by hammertoe. Medications. Oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, may be recommended to reduce pain and inflammation. Splinting/strapping. Splints or small straps may be applied by the surgeon to realign the bent toe.
Bone-mending procedures realign the contracted toe by removing the entire deviated small joints of the toe (again, not at the ball of the foot). This allows for the buckled joint to be positioned flat and the bone ends to mend together. Often surgical hardware (fixation) is necessary to keep the bones steady during healing. Hardware options can involve a buried implant inside the toe, or a temporary wire that is removed at a later date. Medical terminology for this procedure is called a proximal interphalangeal joint arthrodesis (fusion), or a distal interphalangeal joint arthrodesis (fusion), with the former being performed in a high majority of cases.