Hammer toe is characterized by the bent upwards position of the smaller toes in the foot. The toe might be straightened out but if ignored, it can become a lasting deformity.
In every small toe, it is comprised of 3 bones known as phalanges which form 2 interphalangeal joints. The toe flexes at the 1st interphalangeal joint. At first, it can be straightened out, but if left untreated, it becomes permanent.
Individuals with hammer toe often develop a corn or callus on the top part of the toe where it rubs against the upper part of the footwear. Remember that this can be quite painful if pressure is applied or if anything rubs against it. In addition, the affected joint might also be sore and appear swollen.
What are the causes?
Hammer toe is often triggered by using shoes that poorly fit. In case the shoes used are too small either in width or length, the toes are kept in a shortened position for extended periods while the muscles eventually shrink and pull the toes into a bent position.
On the other hand, it can also be caused by over-activity in the extensor digitorum dongus muscle and weakness in the counteracting muscle beneath the foot such as the flexor digitorum longus.
In some cases, hammer toe might be a congenital condition. It simply means that it is already present from birth. It is quite common among individuals who have arthritis in the foot or diabetes.
Management of hammer toe
During the initial phases of hammer toe where the affected toes can still be straightened manually, conservative measures are suitable. In most instances, this involves using shoes that are half size larger than normal and not narrow around the toe area.
It is also recommended to engage in exercises that stretch out the toes and strengthen the muscles beneath the foot to balance the tightness of the upper tendons. Using padding or plasters for corn can help reduce the discomfort of any associated corns and calluses.
If these treatment options fail or not started until the toes are permanently misaligned, surgery might be recommended. If surgery is opted, it might involve either cutting the tendon or fusion of the joint. Congenital conditions must be treated early in childhood which involves manipulation and splinting.