When there?s an imbalance in the muscle and ligament surrounding a toe joint, the effect is a bend in the middle joint of the toe, which causes the whole toe to bend upward. Because the toe is bent in an unnatural way, it?s common for the toe to become irritated and even develop corns. A toe that curls under rather than bends upward is also considered a Hammer toes.
Hammertoe has three main culprits: tight shoes, trauma, and nerve injuries or disorders. When toes are crowded in shoes that are too tight and narrow, they are unable to rest flat, and this curled toe position may become permanent even when you aren’t wearing shoes due to the tendons of the toe permanently tightening. When the tendons are held in one position for too long, the muscles tighten and eventually become unable to stretch back out. A similar situation may result when tendons are injured due to trauma, such as a stubbed, jammed, or broken toe.
Well-developed hammertoes are distinctive due to the abnormal bent shape of the toe. However, there are many other common symptoms. Some symptoms may be present before the toe becomes overly bent or fixed in the contracted position. Often, before the toe becomes permanently contracted, there will be pain or irritation over the top of the toe, particularly over the joint. The symptoms are pronounced while wearing shoes due to the top of the toe rubbing against the upper portion of the shoe. Often, there is a significant amount of friction between the toe and the shoe or between the toe and the toes on either side of it. The corns may be soft or hard, depending on their location and age. The affected toe may also appear red with irritated skin. In more severe cases, blisters or open sores may form. Those with diabetes should take extra care if they develop any of these symptoms, as they could lead to further complications.
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
If your hammertoe problem is diagnosed as flexible hammertoe, there are a number of nonsurgical treatments that may be able to straighten out your toe or toes and return them to their proper alignment. Padding and Taping. Your physician may pad the boney top-part of your hammertoe as a means of relieving pain, and may tape your toes as a way to change their position, correct the muscle imbalance and relieve the pressure that led to the hammertoe’s development. Medication. Anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen can help deal with inflammation, swelling and pain caused by your hammertoe. Cortisone injections may be prescribed for the same purpose. If your hammertoe is a consequence of arthritis, your physician may prescribe medications for that.
Surgery may be the treatment of choice if conservative approaches prove unsuccessful. Usually performed as an outpatient procedure, the specific surgery will depend on the type and extent of injury to the toe. Recovery my take several days or weeks and you may experience some redness, stiffness and swelling of the affected toe. Your physician will recommend taking it easy and to keep your foot elevated while you recover.
Prevention of a hammer toe can be difficult as symptoms do not usually start until the problem is well established. Wearing shoes that have extra room in the toes may help the problem or slow down its development.
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