Hammer Toes

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Hammer ToeOverview

Generally a hammertoe or mallet toe is caused by wearing high heels or shoes that are too small around the toe area, so it?s no surprise that it is mostly women who suffer from them. A hammertoe has a bend in the middle joint of the toe whereas a mallet toe has a bend in the upper joint of the affected toe. The way someone walks (gait) can also lead to the formation of hammertoes and mallet toes as can overuse and injury. Sometimes a deep blister will form over the bent joint and often after some time calluses and corns will develop on the affected toe joint. People with arthritis, diabetes or neuromuscular conditions are also more likely to develop a hammer toe or mallet toe.

Causes

More often than not, wearing shoes that do not fit a person well for too long may actually cause hammer toes. Wearing shoes that are too narrow or too tight for the person for extended periods of time may eventually take a toll on the person's feet. The same is true for women who like wearing hammertoes high-heeled shoes with narrow toe boxes.

Hammer ToeSymptoms

People who have painful hammertoes visit their podiatrist because their affected toe is either rubbing on the end their shoe (signaling a contracted flexor tendon), rubbing on the top of their shoe (signaling a contracted extensor tendon), or rubbing on another toe and causing a painful buildup of thick skin, known as a corn.

Diagnosis

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 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

Treating hammertoe involves straightening the toe, making tendons in the toes flexible again, and preventing the problem from returning. Some simple treatments include Soaking your feet every day in warm water, then stretching your toes and ankles by pointing your toes. Using over-the-counter pads, cushions or straps to decrease discomfort. Splinting the toe to keep it straight and to stretch the tendons of the foot. Exercising the toes to relax the foot tendons (a session with a physical therapist may help you get started with foot exercises). One simple exercise is to place a small towel on the floor and then pick it up using only your toes. You also can grasp at carpet with your toes or curl your toes up and down repeatedly. Wearing shoes that fit properly and give toes plenty of room to stretch out.

Surgical Treatment

Surgery to correct for a hammertoe may be performed as an outpatient procedure at a hospital, surgery center, or in the office of your podiatrist. There are multiple procedures that can be used depending on your individual foot structure and whether the deformity is flexible or rigid. There may be a surgical cut in the bone to get rid of an exostosis, or a joint may be completely removed to allow the toe to lay straight.

Hammer ToePrevention

Certain exercises such as moving and stretching your toe gently with your hands and picking up small or soft objects such as marbles or towels can keep your toe joints flexible, simple exercises can stretch and strengthen your muscles. Limit high-heel use, well-designed flat shoes will be more comfortable than high heels. Don't wear shoes that are too short or too narrow, or too shallow, this is especially important for children going through periods of rapid growth, the toe area should be high enough so that it doesn't rub against the top of your toes.

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