A hammertoe is a deformity in the foot, causing the second, third, or fourth toe to be permanently bent in the middle joint, causing the toe to resemble a hammer (hence, its name!) or a claw. They are most commonly found in women who wear narrow shoes, such as high heels, that cause the toes to bend unnaturally for extended periods of time. A hammertoe may be difficult or painful to move, and the skin may become callused from rubbing against the inside of the shoe. In fact, there are two types of hammertoe: flexible and rigid. Flexible hammertoes can still move at the joint and are indicative of an earlier, milder form of the problem. Rigid hammertoes occur when the tendon no longer moves, and at this stage, surgery is usually necessary to fix the problem.
Your shoes, your genetic predisposition, an underlying medical condition or all of these can make you susceptible to developing one of these deformities of the toes. The genes your parents gave you. When it comes to genetics, the foot type you?re born with predisposes you to developing this type of joint deformity over a lifetime. For many, a flat flexible foot leads to hammertoes as the foot tries to stabilize against a flattening arch. Those with high arches can also form hammertoes as the extensor tendons overpower the flexors.
Symptoms may include pain in the affected toe or toes when you wear shoes, making it hard or painful to walk. A corn or callus on the top of the joint caused by rubbing against the shoe. Swelling and redness of the skin over the joint. Trouble finding comfortable shoes.
Although hammertoes are readily apparent, to arrive at a diagnosis the foot and ankle surgeon will obtain a thorough history of your symptoms and examine your foot. During the physical examination, the doctor may attempt to reproduce your symptoms by manipulating your foot and will study the contractures of the toes. In addition, the foot and ankle surgeon may take x-rays to determine the degree of the deformities and assess any changes that may have occurred.
Non Surgical Treatment
A number of approaches can be undertaken to the manage a hammer toe. It is important that any footwear advice is followed. The correct amount of space in the toe box will allow room for the toes to function without excessive pressure. If a corn is present, this will need to be treated. If the toe is still flexible, it may be possible to use splints or tape to try and correct the hammertoes toe. Without correct fitting footwear, this is often unsuccessful. Padding is often used to get pressure off the toe to help the symptoms. If conservative treatment is unsuccessful at helping the symptoms, surgery is often a good option.
Probably the most frequent procedure performed is one called a Post or an Arthroplasty. In this case a small piece of bone is removed from the joint to straighten the toe. The toe is shortened somewhat, but there is still motion within the toe post-operatively. In other cases, an Arthrodesis is performed. This involves fusing the abnormally-contracted joint. The Taylor procedure fuses only the first joint in the toe, whereas the Lambrinudi procedure fuses both joints within the toe. Toes which have had these procedures are usually perfectly straight, but they take longer to heal and don't bend afterwards. A Hibbs procedure is a transfer of the toe's long extensor tendon to the top of the metatarsal bone. The idea of this procedure is to remove the deforming cause of the hammertoes (in this case, extensor substitution), but to preserve the tendon's function in dorsifexing the foot by reattaching it to the metatarsals. Fortunately, the Gotch (or Gotch and Kreuz) procedure--the removal of the base of the toe where it attaches to the foot, is done less frequently than in years past. The problem with this procedure is that it doesn't address the problem at the level of the deformity, and it causes the toe to become destabilized, often resulting in a toe that has contracted up and back onto the top of the foot. You can even have an Implant Arthroplasty procedure, where a small, false joint is inserted into place. There are several other procedures, as well.