HomeHealth A-ZHammer Toe: Causes, Symptoms, and Diagnosis

Hammer Toe: Causes, Symptoms, and Diagnosis

Hammertoe is a foot deformity caused by an imbalance in the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that keep the toe straight. This condition is caused by multiple factors, such as the type of shoes you wear, your foot shape, and any history of injury or trauma to your foot.

A hammertoe is a toe that bends at the middle joint, also known as the proximal interphalangeal (PIP) joint, in an unusual way. The most usually affected toes are the second, third, and fourth.

Changing your footwear and wearing shoe inserts can help relieve the pain and the strain caused due to a hammertoe. If your symptoms of hammertoe are severe, you may need surgery to treat the condition.

What is a hammertoe?

Hammer’s toe is a deformity that causes the toe to curl or bend downward instead of the normal alignment. This condition can affect any toe on the foot. The most usually affected toe is the second, third or fourth toe. A hammer toe could be present at birth, but it more commonly develops over time due to arthritis or wearing shoes that are overly tight or too pointed. 

What are the common symptoms of hammertoe?

The abnormal bend of joints in one or more toes is the primary sign of a hammertoe. It may be difficult or uncomfortable to move the affected toe. The continuous pressing of the toe on the inside of your shoes, as a result, can also lead to the formation of foot corns and calluses.

Mild signs and symptoms include:

  • A downward bent toe
  • Calluses or corns
  • Walking difficulties
  • Inability to wiggle your toes or stretch your foot
  • Toes that resemble claws

When should you seek medical attention?

While a hammertoe isn’t a life-threatening condition, it does get worse over time. A patient with a hammertoe may develop sores on the top of the affected toe’s middle joint in some cases. These lesions are prone to get infected. 

People with hammer toe or other foot disorders are advised to consult a doctor as soon as they notice any symptoms.

Call 1860-500-1066 to schedule an appointment at Apollo Hospitals.

What causes a hammertoe?

The following factors are some of the most common causes of developing a hammertoe:

  • A toe injury or foot trauma
  • Arthritis
  • Foot arch that is extraordinarily high
  • Wearing shoes that are too big or too tight
  • Ligaments or tendons of the foot that stay overly tense for extended periods
  • A bunion can also lead to a hammertoe. In this condition your big toe points inward toward your second toe, putting pressure on your second toe. 
  • All of your toes may curl downward as a result of the spinal cord or peripheral nerve injury.

Common risk factors that can lead to a hammertoe

A hammer toe is more likely to develop if you have certain risk factors:

  • A history of hammertoe in the family
  • Wearing tight or pointy-toed shoes on a regular basis
  • Having calluses, bunions, or corns significantly increases the risk of developing this condition.

When you wear shoes that are too tight, your toes’ joint is forced into an awkward position. Your muscles are uncomfortably compressed and unable to stretch as a result. If this continues for extended periods, the tensed muscles may get distorted leading to a hammertoe. Wearing ill-fitting shoes also raises your risk of developing the following conditions over time:

  • Ulcerations and blisters
  • Bunions
  • Corns

What are the complications associated with leaving a hammertoe untreated?

Leaving a hammertoe untreated for a long period of time can cause complications in your toe tendons. As a consequence, the tendons might constrict and tighten over time, causing your toe to twist permanently. The pressing of your shoe against the raised area of the toe or toes can also lead to the development of painful corns or calluses in your foot.

What are the treatment options available?

The treatment options for a hammertoe are determined by the severity of your condition. For mild cases of hammertoes, medication and changes in footwear are recommended. Here is a checklist of other options available:

  • Wearing properly fitting shoes can help you fix a hammertoe caused by improper footwear. Wearing insoles or toe pads in your shoes can also help if you have a high arch. 
  • Bunions and corns are treated commonly with over-the-counter (OTC) pads, cushions, or medications. But, if they cause deformity or pain in your toes, your doctor may choose to remove them surgically.
  • Avoid getting blisters on your toes. To prevent blisters and ease pain from pressing on the inside of the shoes, you can use over-the-counter cushions and balms.
  • Stretching your toes gently might also aid in pain relief and repositioning the damaged toe.
  • If conservative treatments do not help, your treating doctor may recommend surgery to release the tendon that is preventing the toe from lying flat. In certain cases, the surgeon may also remove a piece of bone to straighten the toe.

How can you prevent a hammertoe?

Shoes that have a comfortable fit can help you avoid a variety of foot, heel, and ankle problems such as hammertoe. When buying shoes, keep the following in mind: 

  • There’s enough area for your toes. Shoes with pointy toes should be avoided.
  • Avoid high-heeled shoes.
  • Shoes with laces or straps offer more foot room.

A Note from Apollo Hospitals/Apollo Group

A hammertoe is an abnormal bend of the middle joint in a toe, causing it to bend downward and resemble a hammer. This painful condition is caused by an imbalance in the surrounding muscles, tendons, or ligaments that normally keep the toe straight. If you are experiencing early signs of a hammertoe, you should consult your Apollo doctor at the earliest. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the difference between hammertoes, mallet toes, and claw toes?

The main difference between all three conditions is the joint that’s affected and bent. Only the middle joint in case of the hammertoe is bent. In the case of mallet toes, the end joint of the toes is bent. Both the middle and end joints of claw toes are bent, causing the toes to curl like a claw.

2. Is it possible to reverse hammertoe?

You may be able to reverse or at least minimize the severity of a hammertoe if the damage isn’t severe. To begin with, choose a pair of comfortable shoes with plenty of room for your toes to spread out. Also, you can follow stretching exercises recommended by your Apollo doctor to gradually flatten out the joint and help regain its normal shape.

3. What is a hammertoe splint, and how does it work?

To keep the hammertoe in place and prevent it from bending further or rubbing against other toes or your shoe, splints and wraps are commonly used.

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