Hammertoes are quite common and may range from mild to severe. A hammertoe is a contracture, or bending, of one or more toes, usually due to an imbalance between the muscles or tendons on the top and bottom of the toes. Over time, the affected toes lose flexibility, becoming rigid and fixed in a contracted position. The abnormal bend positions the knuckle of the toe upward, causing it to push against the top of the shoe leading to additional problems. The condition usually becomes progressively worse if not treated.
Flat feet can result in hammertoes, this is due to poor mechanics off the foot. High arched feet can also result in buckling toes. A major cause is in hereditary, all the toe conditions mentioned could be acquired due in hereditary factors. Bunions are a major cause of hammertoes. Claw toes are usually the result of a shoe that is too short. For many people, the second toe is actually longer than the great toe, and if shoes are sized to fit the great toe, the second (and maybe even the third toe) will have to bend to fit into the shoe. Shoes that are pointed make matters even worse. Combine pointed shoes with high heels, the foot is under similar pressure as if it was constantly being pushed downhill into a wall. Rheumatoid arthritis can also lead to bunions, which in turn can lead to hammer toes.
Some people never have troubles with hammer toes. In fact, some people don't even know they have them. They can become uncomfortable, especially while wearing shoes. Many people who develop symptoms with hammer toes will develop corns, blisters and pain on the top of the toe, where it rubs against the shoe or between the toes, where it rubs against the adjacent toe. You hammertoe can also develop calluses on the balls of the feet, as well as cramping, aching and an overall fatigue in the foot and leg.
First push up on the bottom of the metatarsal head associated with the affected toe and see if the toe straightens out. If it does, then an orthotic could correct the problem, usually with a metatarsal pad. If the toe does not straighten out when the metatarsal head is pushed up, then that indicates that contracture in the capsule and ligaments (capsule contracts because the joint was in the wrong position for too long) of the MTP joint has set in and surgery is required. Orthotics are generally required post-surgically.
Non Surgical Treatment
Mild hammer toe in children can be treated by manipulating and splinting the affected toe. The following changes in footwear may help relieve symptoms. Wear the right size shoes or shoes with wide toe boxes for comfort, and to avoid making hammer toe worse. Avoid high heels as much as possible. Wear soft insoles to relieve pressure on the toe. Protect the joint that is sticking out with corn pads or felt pads. A foot doctor can make foot devices called hammer toe regulators or straighteners for you, or you can buy them at the store. Exercises may be helpful. You can try gentle stretching exercises if the toe is not already in a fixed position. PIcking up a towel with your toes can help stretch and straighten the small muscles in the foot.
For the surgical correction of a rigid hammertoe, the surgical procedure consists of removing the damaged skin where the corn is located. Then a small section of bone is removed at the level of the rigid joint. The sutures remain in place for approximately ten days. During this period of time it is important to keep the area dry. Most surgeons prefer to leave the bandage in place until the patient's follow-up visit, so there is no need for the patient to change the bandages at home. The patient is returned to a stiff-soled walking shoe in about two weeks. It is important to try and stay off the foot as much as possible during this time. Excessive swelling of the toe is the most common patient complaint. In severe cases of hammertoe deformity a pin may be required to hold the toe in place and the surgeon may elect to fuse the bones in the toe. This requires several weeks of recovery.