When there?s an imbalance in the muscle and ligament surrounding a toe joint, the effect is a bend in the middle joint of the toe, which causes the whole toe to bend upward. Because the toe is bent in an unnatural way, it?s common for the toe to become irritated and even develop corns. A toe that curls under rather than bends upward is also considered a Hammertoe.
But what causes the imbalance of the tendons and muscles in the first place so that they begin to pull and bend the joint? A bad fitting shoe could be the cause but it usually isn?t the primary cause. Many people are genetically predisposed to hammertoe, and the condition begins to progress more quickly when they wear shoes that fit poorly, for example pointy toes, high heels, or shoes that are too short. Hammertoe may also be caused by damage to the joint as a result of trauma.
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 If the deformed toe is very painful, your doctor may recommend that you have a fluid sample withdrawn from the joint with a needle so the fluid can be checked for signs of infection or gout (arthritis from crystal deposits).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
You can usually use over-the-counter cushions, pads, or medications to treat bunions and corns. However, if they are painful or if they have caused your toes to become deformed, your doctor may opt to surgically remove them. If you have blisters on your toes, do not pop them. Popping blisters can cause pain and infection. Use over-the-counter creams and cushions to relieve pain and keep blisters from rubbing against the inside of your shoes. Gently stretching your toes can also help relieve pain and reposition the affected toe.
Surgical correction is necessary in more severe cases and may consist of removing a bone spur (exostectomy) removing the enlarged bone and straightening the toe (arthroplasty), sometimes with internal fixation using a pin to realign the toe; shortening a long metatarsal bone (osteotomy) fusing the toe joint and then straightening the toe (arthrodesis) or simple tendon lengthening and capsule release in milder, flexible hammertoes (tenotomy and capsulotomy). The procedure chosen depends in part on how flexible the hammertoe is.