Hammer Toes What Causes Them

HammertoeOverview

A Hammer toes or contracted toe is a deformity of the proximal interphalangeal joint of the second, third, or fourth toe causing it to be permanently bent, resembling a hammer. Mallet toe is a similar condition affecting the distal interphalangeal joint.

Causes

The main cause of hammer toe is poorly fitted and/or poorly designed footwear. Any footwear that is too tight in the toe box, especially high-heeled shoes, can push the toes forward, crowding one or more of them into a space that is not large enough to allow the toes to lie flat and spread as they should. Other causes include the following. Changes in foot anatomy. Sometimes the metatarsal bones in the ball of the foot can ?drop,? creating a situation in which the toes do not make contact with the surface of the shoe. The toes may then contract at one or both of the joints to re-establish contact with the surface. Traumatic injuries in which toes are jammed or broken. Diabetic neuropathy. This can cause abnormal foot biomechanics due to nerve and/or muscle damage. Damage to nerves and muscles from other conditions, such as arthritis or stroke. Heredity.

Hammer ToeSymptoms

Common reasons patients seek treatment for toe problems are toe pain on the knuckle. Thick toe calluses. Interference with walking/activities. Difficulty fitting shoes. Worsening toe deformity. Pain at the ball of the foot. Unsightly appearance. Toe deformities (contractures) come in varying degrees of severity, from slight to severe. The can be present in conjunction with a bunion, and develop onto a severe disfiguring foot deformity. Advanced cases, the toe can dislocate on top of the foot. Depending on your overall health, symptoms and severity of the hammer toe, the condition may be treated conservatively and/or with surgery.

Diagnosis

The exam may reveal a toe in which the near bone of the toe (proximal phalanx) is angled upward and the middle bone of the toe points in the opposite direction (plantar flexed). Toes may appear crooked or rotated. The involved joint may be painful when moved, or stiff. There may be areas of thickened skin (corns or calluses) on top of or between the toes, a callus may also be observed at the tip of the affected toe beneath the toenail. An attempt to passively correct the deformity will help elucidate the best treatment option as the examiner determines whether the toe is still flexible or not. It is advisable to assess palpable pulses, since their presence is associated with a good prognosis for healing after surgery. X-rays will demonstrate the contractures of the involved joints, as well as possible arthritic changes and bone enlargements (exostoses, spurs). X-rays of the involved foot are usually performed in a weight-bearing position.

Non Surgical Treatment

Your doctor may prescribe some toe exercises that you can do at home to stretch and strengthen the muscles. For example, you can gently stretch the Hammer toes toes manually. You can use your toes to pick things up off the floor. While you watch television or read, you can put a towel flat under your feet and use your toes to crumple it. Finally, your doctor may recommend that you use commercially available straps, cushions or nonmedicated corn pads to relieve symptoms. If you have diabetes, poor circulation or a lack of feeling in your feet, talk to your doctor before attempting any self-treatment.

Surgical Treatment

For severe hammer toe, you will need an operation to straighten the joint. The surgery often involves cutting or moving tendons and ligaments. Sometimes the bones on each side of the joint need to be connected (fused) together. Most of the time, you will go home on the same day as the surgery. The toe may still be stiff afterward, and it may be shorter. If the condition is treated early, you can often avoid surgery. Treatment will reduce pain and walking difficulty.

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