Help for Hammertoes!

Maureen Robb's picture
By Maureen Robb on May 16, 2018

Does one of your toes bend at the middle joint, resembling a hammer?

This is the hallmark of a hammertoe, a deformity that can get worse as you age.

It usually affects one of the three middle toes, particularly the one next to the big toe. You can also get it in one foot or both.

“Women definitely have a greater predisposition for hammertoe, but men get them too,” said J. Randolph Clements, D.P.M., chief of Podiatry at Carilion Clinic.

Causes

Are poor-fitting shoes the culprit?

“Although wearing high heels or shoes with a narrow toe box can irritate the toes, we can’t say that the shoes are to blame,” Dr. Clements said.

“Most cases are caused by an inherited, biomechanical imbalance between the tendons in the toe,” he noted. “Look at your parents' or grandparents’ feet and you can usually see what yours will look like.”

In other cases, people can develop a hammertoe after a stroke or traumatic injury.

If you’ve inherited the condition, it often appears from age 40 to 45.

Symptoms

Accompanying symptoms may include:

  • Irritation
  • Pain
  • Blisters
  • Corns
  • Calluses
  • Inflammation

At first, a hammertoe can cause irritation when the knuckle on the top of the toe rubs against your shoe. The tip of your toe can also rub against the sole of the shoe or ground and cause discomfort.

Your grandparents' toes may indicate the potential for you to develop hereditary hammertoe.

“If you notice a hammertoe developing, the most prudent thing to do is to wear comfortable, wide-toe shoes or shoes with a soft canvas or leather top, like athletic shoes,” Dr. Clements advised.

“Wearing an over-the-counter toe sleeve or splint can also provide padding to ease irritation, but it won’t prevent the problem from getting worse,” he added.

At some point, it can become painful to walk if your toes start to overlap or you regularly get blisters on the top of a toe.

Treatments

When should you seek medical help?

“If you’ve tried the toe sleeves and splints and wearing more comfortable shoes and it’s still very uncomfortable to walk, do seek a consultation,” said Dr. Clements.

Surgical treatments are available, and some are simple, like releasing the tendon to straighten the toe.

If that isn’t enough, a surgeon can remove the knuckle in the toe and use a pin to hold it straight.

In the past, this meant that patients had a pin or wires protruding from their toe for six to eight weeks during the recovery process, but recent improved techniques make this unnecessary.

“We now have devices that hold the toe together with no protruding pins or wires,” said Dr. Clements. “It’s a big improvement.”

So if you’ve been wondering what to do about an uncomfortable hammertoe, there are options to explore. And while your feet may indeed one day look like your parents' or grandparents’, new surgical techniques have thankfully made treatment easier.
 
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