Hammer toes (hammertoe) is a deformity of the second, third, or fourth toes. In this condition, the toe is bent at the middle joint, into an upward position, causing it to resemble a hammer (sometimes decribed as ?curled toes?). Left untreated, hammer toes can become inflexible and require surgery. Toes which take on a curled appearance are hammer toes. Mallet toe is a similar condition, but affects the upper joint of a toe.
This condition is greatly influenced by the footwear we choose. Ladies who wear high heels are a perfect example. High heels force the toes to overlap and bend at the middle joint of the toe, resulting in hammertoe. But high heels are not the only culprits. Anyone who wears shoes that are too tight is increasing their risk of developing hammertoe. This progressive condition, which will only get better with treatment, can cause pain as the toes are forced to bend unnaturally.
The symptoms of a hammer toe include the following. Pain at the top of the bent toe upon pressure from footwear. Formation of corns on the top of the joint. Redness and swelling at the joint contracture. Restricted or painful motion of the toe joint. Pain in the ball of the foot at the base of the affected toe.
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
The most common treatment is to wear more comfortable shoes. When choosing a shoe, make sure the toe area is high and broad and has enough room for hammer toes. If there is chronic pain, surgery may be needed to correct a malalignment. Surgical treatments are aimed at loosening up Hammer toes the contracted toe joints to allow them to align properly. Other types of treatment are products designed to relieve hammer toes, such as hammer toe crests and hammer toe splints. These devices will help hold down the hammer toe and provide relief to the forefoot. Gel toe shields and gel toe caps can also be used. Gel toe shields and toe caps will help eliminate friction between the shoe and the toe, while providing comfort and lubrication.
Probably the most frequent procedure performed is one called a Post or an Arthroplasty. In this case a small piece of bone is removed from the joint to straighten the toe. The toe is shortened somewhat, but there is still motion within the toe post-operatively. In other cases, an Arthrodesis is performed. This involves fusing the abnormally-contracted joint. The Taylor procedure fuses only the first joint in the toe, whereas the Lambrinudi procedure fuses both joints within the toe. Toes which have had these procedures are usually perfectly straight, but they take longer to heal and don't bend afterwards. A Hibbs procedure is a transfer of the toe's long extensor tendon to the top of the metatarsal bone. The idea of this procedure is to remove the deforming cause of the hammertoes (in this case, extensor substitution), but to preserve the tendon's function in dorsifexing the foot by reattaching it to the metatarsals. Fortunately, the Gotch (or Gotch and Kreuz) procedure--the removal of the base of the toe where it attaches to the foot, is done less frequently than in years past. The problem with this procedure is that it doesn't address the problem at the level of the deformity, and it causes the toe to become destabilized, often resulting in a toe that has contracted up and back onto the top of the foot. You can even have an Implant Arthroplasty procedure, where a small, false joint is inserted into place. There are several other procedures, as well.
Essentially, there's one consistent type of Hammer toes, the condition in which your toes are contracted into a hammer or upside-down "V" shape. However, depending on its severity, hammertoe is characterized into two forms. Flexible hammertoe is hammertoe in which the joints of the toes are still moveable or flexible and can be treated with nonsurgical therapies. Rigid hammertoe is the more serious condition in which the joints' muscles and tendons have lost any flexibility and the contraction cannot be corrected by nonsurgical means. As a result, surgery is generally required to deal with the problem. This is why it's important to consult a physician as soon as the problem is recognized for the possibility of successful nonsurgical treatment.
Hammer toe usually affects the second toe. However, it may also affect the other toes. The toe moves into a claw-like position. The most common cause of hammer toe is wearing short, narrow shoes that are too tight. The toe is forced into a bent position. Muscles and tendons in the toe tighten and become shorter. Hammer toe is more likely to occur in women who wear shoes that do not fit well or have high heels and children who keep wearing shoes they have outgrown. The condition may be present at birth (congenital) or develop over time. In rare cases, all of the toes are affected. This may be caused by a problem with the nerves or spinal cord.
Signs and symptoms of hammertoe and mallet toe may include a hammer-like or claw-like appearance of a toe. In mallet toe, a deformity at the end of the toe, giving the toe a mallet-like appearance. Pain and difficulty moving the toe. Corns and calluses resulting from the toe rubbing against the inside of your footwear. Both hammertoe and mallet toe can cause pain with walking and other foot movements.
Although hammertoes are readily apparent, to arrive at a diagnosis the foot and ankle surgeon will obtain a thorough history of your symptoms and examine your foot. During the physical examination, the doctor may attempt to reproduce your symptoms by manipulating your foot and will study the contractures of the toes. In addition, the foot and ankle surgeon may take x-rays to determine the degree of the deformities and assess any changes that may have occurred.
Non Surgical Treatment
Non-surgical methods for hammer toes (claw toes) are aimed at decreasing symptoms (i.e., pain and/or calluses) and/or limiting the progression into a larger problem. Simple treatments patients can do are wear supportive shoes. Use an arch support. Wear shoes with a wide toe box. Modify activities. Spot stretch shoes. Periodic callus care.
If these non-invasive treatments don?t work, or if the joint is rigid, a doctor?s only recourse may be to perform surgery. During the surgery, the doctor makes an incision and cuts the tendon to release it or moves the tendon away from or around the joint. Sometimes part of the joint needs to be removed or the joint needs to be fused. Each surgery is different in terms of what is needed to treat the hammertoe. Normally after any foot surgery, patients use a surgical shoe for four to six weeks, but often the recovery from hammertoe surgery is more rapid than that. An unfortunate reality is that hammertoe can actually return even after surgery if a patient continues to make choices that will aggravate the situation. Though doctors usually explain pretty clearly what needs to be done to avoid this.
Some tips on how to avoid getting hammertoes when wearing high heels has to do with the shoes that you choose and what you do to your feet after you wear the high heels. A closed toe shoe like a stiletto pump is going to put more pressure on the front of the foot, forcing the toes to contract in and start forming the hammertoes. Women who start having hammertoes usually complain about pain in their feet when they wear the closed shoe, usually in the winter season, and when in the warmer weather and they wear the open-toed shoes, there?s much less pressure on the front of the foot and they experience much less pain.
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