The Hammer Toe condition is usually irreversible, but often its progression can be slowed or halted. You should visit a Podiatrist if the toe becomes painful and you have difficulty walking. A Podiatrist will be able to provide advice and treatment including padding the bony top-part of your hammertoe to relieve pain or to tape your toes as a way to change their position. Podiatrists have an important role to play in preventing and managing foot problems. Prompt action is important. Problems which are left without assessment or treatment may result in major health risks.
Essentially, hammertoes are caused by an abnormal interworking of the bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons that comprise your feet. When muscles fail to work in a balanced manner, the toe joints can bend to form the hammertoe shape. If they remain in this position for an extended period, the muscles and tendons supporting them tighten and remain in that position. A common factor in development of hammertoe is wearing shoes that squeeze the toes or high heels that jam the toes into the front of the shoe. Most likely due to these factors, hammertoe occurs much more frequently in women than in men.
A hammertoe may be present but not always painful unless irritated by shoes. One may have enlarged toe joints with some thickened skin and no redness or swelling. However, if shoes create pressure on the joint, the pain will usually range from pinching and squeezing to sharp and burning. In long standing conditions, the dislocated joints can cause the pain of arthritis.
First push up on the bottom of the metatarsal head associated with the affected toe and see if the toe straightens out. If it does, then an orthotic could correct the problem, usually with a metatarsal pad. If the toe does not straighten out when the metatarsal head is pushed up, then that indicates that contracture in the capsule and ligaments (capsule contracts because the joint was in the wrong position for too long) of the MTP joint has set in and surgery is required. Orthotics are generally required post-surgically.
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 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.
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.