Hammer Toe – Everything You Need To Know
We find that many of our customers may not know much about hammer toe other than its odd-looking appearance. Hammertoe deformities, however, are a progressive condition, so they need to be evaluated and treated as early as possible. Below our specialists at PediFix have gathered everything you need to know about hammer toe deformities.
Anatomy of The Foot
The foot is a complex structure composed of 33 joints, 26 bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Together, they all work to bear the weight of our everyday activities and allow for mechanical function, and locomotion. The forefoot is comprised of five toes. Each toe has three joints (except for the first big toe, which usually has only two joints).
For people who suffer from a hammer toe deformity, the affected toe is bent at the middle joint, called the proximal interphalangeal joint (PIP Joint).
What Is A Hammer Toe Deformity?
Hammertoe is a deformity that can affect any toe but usually involves the second, third, or fourth toes. In this condition, the toe is bent at the middle joint, causing it to resemble a hammer, where it gets its name! If hammer toe deformities are left untreated, the area affected by the hammer toe can become inflexible and may even require surgery. People with hammertoe deformities may also experience corns or calluses on the top of the middle joint of the toe or the tip of the toe. They may also feel pain in their toes or feet and have difficulty finding comfortable shoes.
The Two Types of Hammer Toe
Flexible hammer toes are less serious because they can be treated while still in the developmental stage. Diagnosed as ‘flexible’ hammer toes because they are still moveable at the joint.
This variety is more developed and more serious than the flexible condition. Rigid hammertoes appear in patients with severe arthritis. Rigid hammertoes are also noted in patients who wait to seek professional treatment. The tendons in a rigid hammertoe have become tight, and the joint misaligned and immobile, making surgery the usual course of treatment.
What Causes Hammer Toe Deformities?
The most frequent cause of this condition is a muscle or tendon imbalance. This imbalance occurs as a result of biomechanical or neurological changes in the foot. Muscles within the foot work in pairs to straighten and bend the toes. If the toe is bent in one position long enough, the muscles and joints tighten and cannot stretch out. Wearing shoes that do not fit properly is a common cause of this imbalance. Shoes that are narrow and bend toward the toe push the smaller toes into a flexed (bent) position. The toes rub against the shoe, leading to the formation of corns and calluses, which further aggravate the condition. Shoes with a higher heel force the foot down and push the toes against the shoe, increasing the pressure and the bend in the toe. Eventually, the toe muscles can no longer straighten the toe.
Other factors that lead to an increased risk of developing a hammertoe deformity include a foot with misalignment issues, such as ankle instability or flat feet. Or a genetic predisposition and family history of hammertoe deformity.
Hammertoe deformities may even be caused by other underlying conditions, such as:
Arthritis, Diabetes, Nerve Damage, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Serious Injury
Symptoms of Hammer Toe
Many of our customers wonder, “Is hammer toe painful?” It can be. Moving the affected toe can be difficult or painful.
Other symptoms of hammer toe deformities include:
Pain and discomfort while putting on a shoe
Corns and calluses
Inability to flex your foot or wiggle your toes
Pain in the ball of the foot under the bent toe
Popping or Cracking Noises
Hammer Toe Deformities Negatively Impact Performance Levels
Hammertoe deformities are often seen in athletes, especially those who participate in sports that require them to wear tighter-fitting shoes. Including ballet dancers, tennis players, and basketball players, to name just a few.
The condition can affect the performance of athletes in a variety of ways, including:
Decreased range of motion
Increased risk of injury due to the increased pressure on the toes
Increased risk of developing blisters and corn
Decreased performance due to pain and discomfort
While some athletes opt for surgery to correct the condition, there are non-invasive options available to help bring you comfort and help straighten your mild case of hammertoe through straightening devices. For more information on non-invasive options that are available, read on to the “finding relief” section of this blog!
Hammertoe deformities are more common than you may think!
In 2013, the public was able to view Lebron James, a six-foot-eight-inches NBA superstar who has won four NBA MVP awards. His pinky toe earned the nickname “The Lone Phalanger” because of its distance from and misalignment with his other toes. Other humorous press comments included, ‘His toes should spread out more and play zone defense.’
In 2017, the public then got a view of Shaquille O’Neal’s big toe. This public outreach caused a social media firestorm, mostly because O’Neal’s toe is not even close to pointing in the right direction. The big man took off his size 22 shoe and popped his appendage out at halftime during a Cavaliers’ game, and it immediately stole the spotlight. One public commentator compared the toe to a “baked potato.”
Other celebrities that are known for their foot deformities are Jennifer Aniston, Victoria Beckham, Keri Hilson, Kelly Rowland, Tyra Banks, and many more!
You Are Not Alone.
Although the appearance of a hammertoe deformity may seem obvious, your doctor, usually a podiatrist, will perform a physical examination to determine if the toe joint is flexible or rigid. This information will help the foot doctor determine the appropriate treatment. Your foot doctor may also order digital x-rays to assess the severity of the condition. This x-ray will also serve as a baseline for future monitoring of the toe. If you are a patient that has diabetes or you have been experiencing decreased sensation in your feet, your doctor may require further tests to determine the exact cause of the tendon imbalance.
In the early stages of hammer toe—when the joint is still flexible—treatment typically consists of simple measures, such as the following:
Changes in footwear. Your doctor will recommend you avoid wearing tight, narrow, high-heeled shoes. Shoes should be one-half inch longer than your longest toe and have a soft, roomy toe box. You should also find a shoe style that offers a wide toe box, to comfortably accommodate the hammer toe.
Regular Exercises. Specific exercises can help stretch and strengthen the muscles in your foot. Your doctor may recommend gently stretching your toes manually or using your toes to pick things up off the floor. They may also recommend doing “towel curls” to strengthen the toes.
Over-the-counter remedies. Using commercially available straps, cushions, or non-medicated corn pads can help relieve pain. If you have diabetes, poor circulation, or a lack of feeling in your feet, please talk with your doctor before attempting self-treatment.
Non-Invasive Hammer Toe Treatments. Try applying one of many effective PediFix® Hammer Toe products from our website. Many of these products can help reduce pain, provide relief on toe tips, prevent corns, calluses, and blisters, and may help you walk better.
If the toe joint is rigid and no longer moveable, or nonsurgical treatment does not seem to relieve your symptoms, your doctor may recommend surgery. Surgery is typically performed on an outpatient basis using a local anesthetic. The actual procedure will depend on the type and extent of the deformity.
After surgery, it is normal to experience some stiffness, swelling, and redness in your toe for up to 4-6 weeks. Although you will likely be able to put pressure on your foot immediately after surgery, you should limit your activity while the toe heals. Elevating your foot as much as possible will help speed healing and reduce pain. Once healed, your toe may be slightly longer or shorter than it was earlier.
Our specialists at PediFix® offer a variety of hammertoe solutions. Convenient ordering and guaranteed satisfaction, find your favorite hammertoe relief on our website:
If you have questions about how our products can support you, please call 1-800- PEDIFIX (733-4349) to learn more. Our product specialists are ready to support your needs!