A Hammer toe is a toe that is contracted at the PIP joint (middle joint in the toe), potentially leading to severe pressure and pain. Ligaments and tendons that have tightened cause the toe's joints to curl downwards. Hammer toes may occur in any toe except the big toe. There is often discomfort at the top part of the toe due to rubbing against the shoe.
Essentially, hammertoes are caused by an abnormal interworking of the bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons that comprise your feet. When muscles fail to work in a balanced manner, the toe joints can bend to form the hammertoe shape. If they remain in this position for an extended period, the muscles and tendons supporting them tighten and remain in that position. A common factor in development of hammertoe is wearing shoes that squeeze the toes or high heels that jam the toes into the front of the shoe. Most likely due to these factors, hammertoe occurs much more frequently in women than in men.
At first, a hammertoe or mallet toe may maintain its flexibility and lie flat when you're not wearing crowded footwear. But eventually, the tendons of the toe may contract and tighten, causing your toe to become permanently stiff. Your shoes can rub against the raised portion of the toe or toes, causing Hammer toe painful corns or calluses.
Your doctor is very likely to be able to diagnose your hammertoe simply by examining your foot. Even before that, he or she will probably ask about your family and personal medical history and evaluate your gait as you walk and the types of shoes you wear. You'll be asked about your symptoms, when they started and when they occur. You may also be asked to flex your toe so that your doctor can get an idea of your range of motion. He or she may order x-rays in order to better define your deformity.
Non Surgical Treatment
Prescription strength medicines to decrease pain and inflammation. Physical Therapy. To strengthen poorly functioning muscles and stretch tight muscles that may be exacerbating the toes. Special ultrasound techniques may reduce inflammation. Custom Foot Orthotics. An orthotic with an exact mold of your foot to better align and support the foot to ease current discomfort and prevent future progression. Toe Splints or Pads. Specific pads may prevent pressure and physical irritation in shoes. Toe splints and toe spacers physically realign the toes and can lessen pain and halt or stall hammer toe progression. Cortisone injections are strong anti-inflammatory agents to decrease pain, and swelling directly at the toe region. Injections only treat the symptoms, and in some cases used in caution (and sparingly) they can weaken supporting ligaments of the toe(s).
Laser surgery is popular for cosmetic procedures, however, for hammer toe surgery it does not offer any advantage to traditional methods. Laser is useful for soft tissues (not bone), and because hammer toe surgery involves bone procedures, it is not effective. For cosmetic hammer toe surgery, patients should look for surgeons experienced in aesthetic foot surgery.
Some different things you can do to help prevent hammer toes from forming and progressing do exist. You can wear supportive shoes to help prevent deformities. Hammer toes are often times related to poor foot mechanics, particularly foot flattening. You can wear custom orthotics prescribed by a podiatrist; orthotics might prevent or slow the progression of hammer toes. You can also avoid shoes with narrow or pointed toe boxes that can compress your toes.