Hammer toes most commonly affects the second toe on the foot. It causes the middle joint to bend. Hammertoe is most frequently caused by structural problems in the toe or from wearing poor fitting shoes. It is important to diagnose and treat hammertoe early because the condition tends to become worse over time. If left untreated, hammertoe can require surgery.
If a foot is flat (pes planus, pronated), the flexor muscles on the bottom of the foot can overpower the others because a flatfoot is longer than a foot with a normal arch. When the foot flattens and lengthens, greater than normal tension is exerted on the flexor muscles in the toes. The toes are not strong enough to resist this tension and they may be overpowered, resulting in a contracture of the toe, or a bending down of the toe at the first toe joint (the proximal interphalangeal joint) which results in a hammertoe. If a foot has a high arch (pes cavus, supinated), the extensor muscles on the top of the foot can overpower the muscles on the bottom of the foot because the high arch weakens the flexor muscles. This allows the extensor muscles to exert greater than normal tension on the toes. The toes are not strong enough to resist this tension and they may be overpowered, resulting in a contracture of the toe, or a bending down of the toe at the first toe joint (the proximal interphalangeal joint) which results in a hammertoe.
People with a hammer toe will often find that a corn or callus will develop on the top of the toe, where it rubs against the top of the footwear. This can be painful when pressure is applied or when anything rubs on it. The affected joint may also be painful and appear swollen.
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
Podiatric Care may include using anti-inflammatory oral medications or an injection of medication and local anesthetic to reduce this swelling. When you go to your doctor, x-rays are usually required to evaluate the structure of your foot, check for fractures and determine the cause. The podiatrist may see you to take care of any corns that develop due hammertoes to the bone deformities. They may advise you on different shoewear or prescribe a custom made orthotic to try and control the foot structure. Padding techniques may be used to straighten the toe if the deformity is flexible, or pads may be used to lessen the pressure on the area of the corn or ulcer. Your podiatric physician may also recommend a surgical procedure to actually fix the structural problem of your foot.
In more advanced cases of hammer toe, or when the accompanying pain cannot be relieved by conservative treatment, surgery may be required. Different types of surgical procedures are performed to correct hammer toe, depending on the location and extent of the problem. Surgical treatment is generally effective for both flexible and fixed (rigid) forms of hammer toe. Recurrence following surgery may develop in persons with flexible hammer toe, particularly if they resume wearing poorly-fitted shoes after the deformity is corrected.