Causes Of Hammer Toes: What Are Its Symptoms & Treatment Options?

Hammer toe is also known as contracted toe. Deformity in the proximal interphalangeal joint of second, third or fourth toe which results in permanent bent in the affected toe whereby the affected toe appears like a hammer.

Some of the common causes for developing a hammer toe are:

  • Wearing shoes that do not fit properly is the most common cause for developing hammer toe. If one wears excessively high heels for many years or shoes that are narrow or small for the foot for a long time, it causes hammer toe. Due to use of such shoes, toes remain in the bent position for a long time.
    This causes the muscles to shorten over a period of time resulting in hammer toe. In narrow shoes, there is not enough space to accommodate all the toes. Due to narrow toe box of the shoes, the toes are pushed forward and get compressed.
  • It is observed that hammer toe is usually associated with other foot problems such as bunions.
  • Diseases such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, stroke or Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease can cause damage to the joint or nerve leading to hammer toe.
  • Friedreich’s ataxia
  • Sometimes, hammer toe occurs due to inheritance.

Symptoms Of Hammer Toes

Some of the main symptoms of hammer toe include:

  • Pain while walking or on movement of toes or foot.
  • Affected toe appears like hammer.
  • Hammer is associated with corns and calluses due to constant friction with the footwear.

If the pain is severe and persistent with inability to walk, then one must consult the doctor immediately. Doctor will diagnose the condition on visual inspection of the affected toe.

Treatment Options For Hammer Toes

  • Treatment depends on the flexibility of the affected toe. If the affected toe is flexible, doctor will advise to wear comfortable shoes with wide toe box so that toes do not remain crowded in the shoe. Inserts or shoe pads can be used to reposition the toe.
  • Orthopaedic surgery is required to correct the deformed toe if it is totally inflexible or for the toe having very poor flexibility.
  • Surgeon will make an incision on the toe and release the tendon to straighten it. This surgery is done in patients having some flexibility in their affected toes.
  • If toe has lost the flexibility and has become rigid, surgeon will make an incision and realign the tendon. He may also remove some pieces of bones to straighten it. Bones may be fixed with pins temporarily till toe gets healed. Patient is discharged from hospital on the day of surgery.
  • Conservative therapy also includes physical therapy to improve toe’s mobility. Physical therapy is used along with use of shoes which are soft and have broad toe box. Exercises can be done at home to improve muscle strength and its length. Person can gently stretch his toe. One can also pick things from the floor with the help of toes. While watching television or reading, a person can keep towel beneath the foot and try to crumple it with the help of the toes.
  • Doctor will give brace for the toes which pushes down the toe and helps to stretch out the muscles.

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