It might not seem like it takes any effort at all for our toes to lie in a flat resting position. They’re toes, right? It’s what they do. However, the positions of our toes rely upon a balance of muscles, tendons, and ligaments to hold them in place. If any of these parts become imbalanced, the resting position of the toe can change and a toe deformity such as a hammertoe can appear.
A hammertoe is a bend in the middle joint of one of the smaller toes. This causes the middle joint to rise up and the tip of the toe to angle downward. If the upper joint of a toe, closest to the tip, is bent, that is often referred to as a mallet toe instead.
The imbalances in structure that can cause hammertoe have varying sources. Some people are simply born with this sort of imbalance, inherited down the family line. In other cases, wearing shoes that crowd and apply too much force on the toes over the years can contribute to the condition.
There are certain factors that can increase your odds of developing a hammertoe. Trauma such as a toe fracture or severely jamming a toe can make one more likely to happen. The deformity is also more present in older individuals and females. Those who have a second toe longer than their big toe are also at a higher risk, as are those who have arthritis or diabetes.
Hammertoes tend to start mild and grow progressively worse over time. In addition to a visible bend, other symptoms can include discomfort or irritation when wearing shoes. The raised joint will often rub against the top of a shoe, creating corns or calluses.
The Straight Truth
In many cases, a hammertoe will start off flexible, making it easier to correct with conservative forms of treatment. In other words, the sooner a hammertoe is diagnosed, the more can likely be done for it.
Conservative treatments will depend on the specific condition, but often include switching to roomier footwear with a wider front for the toes. Custom-made orthotics, pads, and inserts can also help reposition the toe and relieve friction against the area. Exercises to stretch and strengthen the toe muscles might also help maintain balance in certain cases, and we can teach you a simple regimen based on your needs.
If left alone, however, over time the tendons of an affected toe will contract and keep the toe in a permanent (or rigid) bend. At this point, conservative treatments tend to be ineffective and surgery may become a consideration. The tightened tendon might be released to free the toe, and in some cases a small piece of bone might be removed to help maintain straightness.
Don’t wait for a hammertoe to get worse before seeking help. Starting to manage it now can prevent a much worse situation in the future. Dr. Timothy Barry and the staff here at Family Foot & Ankle Care of Jasper are here to help feet of all shapes and sizes find the best in comfort and health. Make an appointment with our office by calling (812) 481-7200 or by using our online form.