two feet on wood floor with hammertoe on each footHammertoe is a condition that causes an abnormal bending of one or more toes. With this condition, the toes resemble a hammer as they curl downward instead of straightening out. Hammertoe can be painful and can affect your daily activity, so treating it in its earliest stages is important. For more severe cases, surgery is often an option.

Common Causes of Hammertoe

Hammertoe develops due to an abnormal muscle or ligament balance in the toes. This leads to pressure on the tendons and joints of the toe, resulting in the deformity. Women are at greater risk for developing hammertoe than men. Those with a condition such as diabetes are also at an increased risk of the condition due to diabetic nerve damage that affects the control of the toe muscles.

Some of the common causes of hammertoe are:

  • Heredity
  • Aging
  • Arthritis
  • Bunion
  • Having a longer second toe than big toe
  • Traumatic injury to the toe
  • Wearing shoes that are too tight or ones with a high heel that put pressure on the toes

Types of Hammertoes

There are two types of hammertoes:

  • Flexible. Flexible hammertoe is still moveable at the joint and can be treated in its early stages.
  • Fixed. Fixed hammertoe, also called rigid or stiff, happens when the tendons have tightened in the toes and the joint is immobile. This happens in more advanced stages and in those with a condition such as arthritis.

Hammertoe Symptoms

The most noticeable symptom of hammertoe is the visible bend of the middle toe joint. The middle joint will bend upward, causing the toes to bend down into a C position. In the early stages, the toes are flexible and can be straightened. As hammertoe progresses, you may experience pain when walking and other conditions forming on the feet, such as corns or calluses.

Every case is different, and symptoms can vary from person to person. Some common symptoms of hammertoe include:

  • Pain in the toes
  • Redness at the joint of the toe
  • Swelling
  • Restricted toe joint motion
  • Pain at the ball of the foot

If you have any symptoms of hammertoe or are experiencing pain in your feet and toes, consult with a podiatrist. Early treatment is essential for hammertoes, so seeing a podiatrist at the first signs of a problem will give you the most options. Hammertoe can be diagnosed through a physical examination of your feet and toes. An X-ray may be ordered to confirm the diagnosis.

Early Treatment Options for Hammertoe

If hammertoe is treated at an early stage where the toes are still flexible, some conservative options may provide relief. These include:

  • Medication. A non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication can be used for pain and inflammation in the toes.
  • Shoes. Shoes that have extra room in the toe area and have cushioning are ideal for those with hammertoe. Any shoes that are too tight or add pressure should be avoided.
  • Custom orthotics. An orthotic can be worn in the shoe to position the toes properly and relieve any pressure in that area. In addition, padding can be placed over corns or calluses that have formed as a result of hammertoe.
  • Toe stretches. Exercises that stretch out the toes and strengthen the muscles can help keep the toes flexible and provide pain relief.
  • Ice. Ice can be applied several times a day to reduce swelling and inflammation.
  • Steroid injection. An injection of a steroid medication may be given in the affected toe joint to reduce inflammation.

Surgery as a Treatment Option

If hammertoe is worsening or causing problems with daily activities, surgery may be an option to consider. Outpatient surgery can be done for both flexible and rigid hammertoe. Surgery options include:

  • Flexible hammertoe surgery. For flexible hammertoe, a tendon release may be performed. This procedure releases the tendon to straighten the toes. It typically has good results and a short recovery time.
  • Rigid hammertoe surgery. For rigid hammertoe, a procedure may be done that removes a small section of the bone near the toe joint. For more advanced cases, pins or metal screws may be needed to provide support to the damaged toe. Recovery is longer for this type of surgery and can be several weeks.

Since every person is different, recovery times may vary. Your podiatrist will give you instructions for your recovery. These can include:

  • Wearing a specialty shoe. You may need to wear a shoe designed to protect your toe and keep it in the proper position for three to six weeks following surgery.
  • Driving restriction. Driving a vehicle for a few weeks may need to be avoided if surgery was done on your right foot.
  • Non-weight bearing. You may need to use crutches or a knee scooter after surgery, so you do not place any weight on the foot.
  • Keep it dry. If surgery required the use of pins or screws, you will need to avoid getting the foot wet.
  • Elevate. To reduce swelling, keeping the foot elevated and using ice may be required.

Hammertoe Surgery Complications

If you have decided on surgery to correct your hammertoe, there are some complications to be aware of. Pain, swelling, and redness are common after surgery. Some cases of hammertoe can come back after surgery and may require additional treatment. Some complications from hammertoe surgery may include:

  • Bones not healing properly
  • Stiffening of the toe
  • Nerve damage
  • Blood clot
  • Infection

Contact an Experienced Podiatrist for Help

If you have stiffness or pain in your toes, it’s well worth your time to get them checked out by a podiatrist. Hermiston Family Foot Clinic can assess your risk for developing hammertoes and can offer effective treatments if you already have the condition. To set up an appointment, fill out our contact form online or call our Hermiston, Oregon office at 541-567-8750.