A Hammertoe is a term that is commonly used to describe any type of toe deformity. It is a common problem that may or may not be a problem. What does a hammer toe look like? In a hammertoe the deformity usually exists in one toe (at the proximal inter phalangeal joint) - the base of the toe points upward and the end of the toe points down.
Hammertoes are usually structural in nature. Many times this is the foot structure you were born with and other factors have now made it so that symptoms appear. The muscles in your foot may become unbalanced over time, allowing for a deformity of the small bones in each toe. With longstanding deformity the toe may become rigid. Sometimes one toe is longer than another and this causes a buckling of the digit. A hammertoe may also be caused by other foot deformities such as a bunion. Trauma or other surgery of your foot may predispose you to having the condition if your foot structure is altered.
Well-developed hammertoes are distinctive due to the abnormal bent shape of the toe. However, there are many other common symptoms. Some symptoms may be present before the toe becomes overly bent or fixed in the contracted position. Often, before the toe becomes permanently contracted, there will be pain or irritation over the top of the toe, particularly over the joint. The symptoms are pronounced while wearing shoes due to the top of the toe rubbing against the upper portion of the shoe. Often, there is a significant amount of friction between the toe and the shoe or between the toe and the toes on either side of it. The corns may be soft or hard, depending on their location and age. The affected toe may also appear red with irritated skin. In more severe cases, blisters or open sores may form. Those with diabetes should take extra care if they develop any of these symptoms, as they could lead to further complications.
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 If the deformed toe is very painful, your doctor may recommend that you have a fluid sample withdrawn from the joint with a needle so the fluid can be checked for signs of infection or gout (arthritis from crystal deposits).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
Your doctor may prescribe some toe exercises that you can do at home to stretch and strengthen the muscles. For example, you can gently stretch the toes manually. You can use your toes to pick things up off the floor. While you watch television or read, you can put a towel flat under your feet and use your toes to crumple it. Finally, your doctor may recommend that you use commercially available straps, cushions or nonmedicated corn pads to relieve symptoms. If you have diabetes, poor circulation or a lack of feeling in your feet, talk to your doctor before attempting any self-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.
Hammertoe can usually be prevented by wearing shoes that fit properly and give the toes plenty of room. Don?t wear shoes with pointed or narrow toes. Don?t wear shoes that are too tight or short. Don?t wear high-heeled shoes, which can force the toes forward. Choose shoes with wide or boxy toes. Choose shoes that are a half-inch longer than your longest toe. If shoes hurt, don?t wear them.
A bunion or hallux valgus is a prominence on the inner border of the foot effecting the big toe and at the level of the 1st metatarso-phalangeal (MTP) joint. The bunion prominence which is seen and felt on the inner border of the foot is not due to any growth of bone but is due to the 1st metatarsal bone. With a bunion this has become more prominent than normal because the 1st metatarsal has moved away from its immediate neighbour the 2nd metatarsal. This widens the forefoot thus producing the bunion. An inevitability of the splaying of the foot which occurs with a bunion or hallux valgus is that the great toe itself is then pulled across in the opposite direction (towards the second toe) by the still normally located tendons of the big toe. A bunion or hallux valgus is commonly confused with hallux interphalangeus (where the deformity lies more distally and which tends to be less problematic). Here there is no increase in the space between the metatarsals, and the deformity lies in the shape of the phalynx bone.
It is thought that the primary cause of bunions is a mechanical instability in the big toe joint. There are a number of different reasons as to why this may happen. Bunions tend to run in families so a person with a family history of bunions has an increased risk of developing them. Factors that are known to increase the risk of bunions include wearing improperly fitting shoes (particularly narrow and/or high-heeled shoes). Certain arthritic conditions and ligament disorders. Age (the incidence of bunions increases with age). Being flatfooted with feet that roll inwards (over pronation). Past injury (trauma) to the foot. Nerve conditions affecting the foot. Bunions most commonly affect women (approximately 90% of cases) and are less common in people who do not regularly wear shoes.
Bunions are readily apparent, you can see the prominence at the base of the big toe or side of the foot. However, to fully evaluate your condition, the Podiatrist may take x-rays to determine the degree of the deformity and assess the changes that have occurred. Because bunions are progressive, they don't go away, and will usually get worse over time. But not all cases are alike, some bunions progress more rapidly than others. There is no clear-cut way to predict how fast a bunion will get worse. The severity of the bunion and the symptoms you have will help determine what treatment is recommended for you.
When an x-ray of a bunion is taken, there is usually angulation between the first metatarsal bone and the bones of the big toe. There may also be angulation between the first and second metatarsal bones. These angular irregularities are the essence of most bunions. In general, surgery for bunions aims to correct such angular deformities.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment of hallux valgus nearly always starts with adapting shoe wear to fit the foot. In the early stages of hallux valgus, converting from a shoe with a pointed toe to a shoe with a wide forefoot (or toe box) may arrest the progression of the deformity. Since the pain that arises from the bunion is due to pressure from the shoe, treatment focuses on removing the pressure that the shoe exerts on the deformity. Wider shoes reduce the pressure on the bunion. Bunion pads may reduce pressure and rubbing from the shoe. There are also numerous devices, such as toe spacers, that attempt to splint the big toe and reverse the deforming forces.
If bunions are causing severe foot pain or inflammation and swelling that limits daily activities and doesn't improve with rest, medication and comfortable shoes, surgery may be required. More than 100 surgical options are available for painful bunions. Some realign the foot's anatomy by cutting notches from the metatarsal bone or the bone of the big toe. The bones can then grow back without the slant that promotes bunion growth. The operation is usually done on an outpatient basis, but afterward, you probably will have to stay off your feet for a few weeks. Recovery takes about six weeks. Surgery is not recommended for a bunion that doesn't cause pain.