Hammer toes are usually not a serious condition, but can become painful as the bent joint rubs against the inside of the shoe, causing irritation, corns, or calluses on the top of the middle joint or the tip of the toe. A Hammer toe may also cause occasional shooting pains throughout the hammertoe toes or elsewhere in the foot. A hammertoe has a kink or contracture in its second joint–called the proximal interphalangeal joint–that causes the toe to bend upward in the middle, giving it a hammer-like appearance. The raised part of the toe often rubs on shoes, leading to the formation of corns or calluses. Usually hammertoe affects the smaller toes, causing pain and interfering with the ability to walk normally.
Certain risk factors increase your likelihood of developing a hammertoe. These include a family history of hammertoes, wearing tight or pointy-toed shoes, wearing shoes that are too small, having calluses, bunions, or corns (thickened layers of skin caused by prolonged/repeated friction) Wearing shoes that are too small can force the joint of your toes into a dislocated position. This makes it impossible for your muscles to stretch out. Over time, the practice of wearing improperly fitting shoes increases your risk of developing hammertoes, blisters, bunions, and corns.
Symptoms include sharp pain in the middle of the toe and difficulty straightening the toe. People with hammertoe may also develop blisters, which are fluid-filled pockets of skin, because the bent toe is likely to rub against the inside of a shoe. This increased friction may also lead to calluses, which are areas of thickened skin, and corns, which are hard lumps that may form on or between toes. Symptoms may be minor at first, but they can worsen over time.
A hammertoe is usually diagnosed with a physical inspection of your toe. Imaging tests, such as X-rays, may be ordered if you have had a bone, muscle, or ligament injury in your toe.
Non Surgical Treatment
Hammer toes may be effectively corrected in different ways. Treatments can be non-invasive and involve physical therapy along with the advice that the person not wear any more shoes that restrict appropriate space for their toes. Appropriate shoes for people who want to avoid hammer toes, or for people who already have them, should be at least half an inch longer than the person’s longest toe. High-heeled shoes are something to definitely avoid.
If this fails or if treatment is not sought until the toes are permanently misaligned, then surgery may be required. Surgery may involve either cutting the tendon or fusing the joint. Congenital conditions should be treated in early childhood with manipulations and splinting.
If you notice the beginning signs of hammertoe, you may be able to prevent the tendons from tightening by wearing toe-friendly shoes, by flattening your toes regularly, and by soaking your feet every day in warm water, then stretching your toes and ankles by pointing your toes. Foot exercises also can help to maintain or restore the flexibility of the tendons. One simple exercise is to place a small towel on the floor and then pick it up using only your toes. You also can grasp at carpet with your toes or curl your toes up and down repeatedly.