What are Hammertoes?
A hammertoe is any toe that has curled as the result of a bend within the middle joint of any toe. Mallet toe is a very similar condition, however, it effects the joint of the toe, closest to the foot. Otherwise, there are only subtle differences between mallet toe and hammertoe.
Both mallet toe and hammertoe are commonly the result of ill-fitting footwear; in particular high heels and shoes that may be too short. Under such conditions, the toe can be pushed up against the shoe, causing an unnatural arch to the toe and a claw or hammer-like appearance.
Alleviating pressure and pain of a mallet toe or a hammertoe might involve a change in footwear and possibly shoe inserts. However a more severe case of hammertoe may warrant hammertoe surgery.
Picture of a Hammertoe
A hammertoe is most often caused by wearing ill-fitting shoes that can deform the structure of the toe. The muscles inside the toes can actually shorten when bent for extended periods of time. This condition can be found in conjunction with calluses, bunions, or other foot related problems. It can also be the result of nerve, joint, or muscle damage caused by conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, stroke, or diabetes.
Several factors can increase your risk of developing a hammertoe.
- Some people can be structurally prone to the development of hammertoes
- Tight-fitting footwear
- Smaller and weaker muscles within the foot may also contribute
- Some structural deformity can actually be due to genetic predisposition
- Some type of previous trauma like a broken or severely stubbed toe
We Can Help
As Director of the Colorado Foot Institute, Dr. Mechanik is Board Certified in Foot Surgery and Board Certified in Reconstructive Rear Foot and Ankle Surgery. He has the medical and surgical skills to treat your foot conditions. He and his family are natives of the Denver area.
Dr. Mechanik received his Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) degree from the the Dr. William M. Scholl College of Podiatric Medicine which is part of the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, a national leader in medical education.
Dr. Mechanik then went on to complete a twenty-four month post-graduate Residency training program in Foot and Ankle Surgery and a twenty-four month surgical Fellowship training program in Lower Extremity Musculoskeletal Surgery.
Dr. Mechanik is a Fellow of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons and a Diplomate, American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgery.
Dr. Mechanik will diagnose any toe deformities via thorough physical examination and other testing if necessary. He will measure stability, sensation, and flexibility as part of the physical examination and will check for swelling, redness, and calluses.
Blood tests may be required to rule out rheumatoid arthritis, underlying infection, diabetes, and other conditions. Dr. Mechanik may recommend x-rays to determine bone structure and toe positioning and to detect joint lining inflammation, bone inflammation, and arthritis.
Conservative treatments may begin by changing your shoes to softer, roomier footwear. All shoes should provide a half inch of extra room for your toes. Avoid wearing narrow, tight, high-heeled shoes. There are also shoes available that can accommodate a hammertoe. Sandals may also help so long as they don’t rub or pinch other areas of your foot.
Dr. Mechanik may also prescribe toe exercises to help strengthen and stretch the muscles. For instance, you can stretch the toes manually, but be sure to do so gently. Other simple exercises known to have a positive effect are things like using your feet to retrieve objects from the floor or laying a towel flat beneath your feet and crumpling it with your toes while you read or watch tv.
A hammertoe may be corrected through surgical procedures if you do not see positive results with conservative methods. Usually, surgery can be performed as an outpatient procedure with local anesthetic. The procedure chosen will depend upon the severity of the deformity. There may be some post surgery stiffness, redness and swelling and the toe might be somewhat shorter or longer than it was before. You will not be limited in your mobility, however, long walks and hikes should not be attempted until the toe heals, and the foot should be kept elevated as often as possible.