If your toe curls downward so that only the tip is in contact with the floor and the middle joint juts up, you have yourself a hammertoe. Aptly named due to its resemblance to the head of a hammer, this condition is most often seen in the second or third toe, although it can happen to any. There are a number of reasons for hammertoes to occur, but no matter the culprit of the curl, prompt treatment is necessary to avoid the toe stiffening and staying in this abnormal position.
Common Toe Curling Culprits
Hammertoes typically occur due to a muscle or tendon imbalance. This results in a structural change that affects the middle joint. Shoes that are too small or tight are often to blame as they force the toe into a cramped position and keep it that way. Other potential causes include: a previous injury to the toe, arthritis, nerve damage, high arches, and pressure from a bunion which forces the big toe to crowd its neighbors.
Susceptibility to the condition can also stem from an inherited trait. In other words, if your parents or grandparents have hammertoes, its likely that you will too!
Sure-Fire Signs of Trouble
Besides the obvious hammer head-like appearance, you might also experience discomfort wearing shoes, walking, or just plain moving your toe. Often it is hard to flex or wiggle your toes, and you may notice swelling, redness, or a burning sensation. Corns and calluses can form between the toes and on top of the middle joint due to pressure and friction from shoes. Unfortunately, this is a progressive condition, so the longer it goes untreated, the more severe the situation becomes and the harder it is to straighten the toe without surgery. In the early stages, this condition is referred to as flexible, while later stages are considered rigid. As you can imagine, the earlier you seek treatment the better!
Acting quickly is essential to avoiding a surgical procedure, so as soon as you notice any symptoms, you should start treatment immediately. Anti-inflammatory medications, and injection therapy can help, but there are other approaches you may want to try first. Stretches, padding, and splints that hold toes in proper position can all help in the early stages. You can benefit from orthotic inserts, too, as they can redistribute pressure away from the area. Perhaps the best thing you can do, however, is switch to better fitting shoes!
If hammertoes run in your family, stop the tradition by using these steps as preventative measures rather than waiting until they become treatment options.
Surgery for Severe Situations
If you wait too long, your toe will be unable to straighten, become hard and even more painful. Surgery will be the only way to restore movement and relieve symptoms. Procedures usually involve removing deformed or injured bone, realigning tendons, and/or repositioning the toe into proper alignment. Recovery and healing will depend on the severity of the condition as well as the number of toes involved, among other factors.
All the Tools for Treatment
At Houston Foot Specialists, we have over 25 years of experience treating hammertoes its one of our specialties! If you notice your toe starting to curl and feel tight, dont hesitate to call our Houston, TX office at (713) 493-7372. We have all the tools it takes to help your toe stay straight. In the meantime, make sure your shoes fit and keep those toes moving and strong!