What is a Hammer Toe?

Hammer toe is a type of deformity of the foot that causes the toes to contract or curl downward. This makes the toe look like a hammer. A toe has two joints which allows the toe to bend. Hammer toe occurs when the middle joint is bent or flexed downward. It affects the second or third toe in most cases, but it can affect any toe. This deformity usually develops over time due to arthritis or wearing shoes that are tight and pointed. It is formed because of the imbalance of pressure on the surrounding ligaments, muscles, and tendons that keep the toes straight. Most cases of hammer toes are treatable.

Two Types of Hammer Toes:

Flexible Hammer Toes are less serious because they are still in the developmental stage. They are called flexible hammer toes because they are still movable at the joint and the toes can still be flexed. Hammer toes are flexible to begin with but can become rigid if not treated promptly.

Rigid Hammer Toes are more serious and developed. This can be seen in patients with arthritis or have had the condition for a long time. When the toe is bent long enough, the tendons and muscles become tight, making the toe immovable. This case usually requires surgery.

Causes and Symptoms of Hammer Toes

A hammer toe is formed by the abnormal balance of the muscles in the toes. This applies increased pressure on the joints and tendons in the toe causing it to contract or curl. Wearing shoes that are too tight and pointed forces the toes into an abnormal position. When these shoes are worn repeatedly or during long periods of time, the toes may not be able to straighten. Women are more likely to develop hammer toes due to the shoe styles that women usually wear.

There are certain factors that increase your likelihood or put you at risk of developing a hammer toe. It may be hereditary and run in your family. People suffering from chronic conditions such as arthritis or diabetes are more likely to develop foot problems including hammer toes. Toe injuries and other foot conditions such as bunions and callouses may cause hammer toes. The risk of having hammer toes increases with age.

Hammer toes cause discomfort when walking and can cause pain when stretching the toes. Most of the symptoms of hammer toe are visible. The affected toes are bent, looking like a hammer. You may also see corns and callouses on top of the affected toe, or swelling and redness of the toe.

Diagnosis and Treatment for Hammer Toes

Hammer toes usually go away without complications after treatment. It is best to get treatment as soon as possible. Waiting too long to seek treatment for a hammer toe may cause the other toes to deform as well. The hammer toe forces neighboring toes out of their original position. The muscles around the joint can tighten through time, making the condition worse.

For severe cases of hammer toes where the toes are immovable, surgery may be required. Surgery is done to reposition toes and align the tendons and joints as well as remove deformed bones. The procedure is usually done on an outpatient basis and patients can go home the same day of the surgery.

A foot doctor or a podiatrist can diagnose hammer toes during a foot examination. They may gently move the foot and toes to look for symptoms to thoroughly evaluate the condition. The doctor may order x-rays to further examine the bone structure of the toes. Contact us to schedule a consultation with a podiatrist today.