A hammertoe is a toe that is contracted at the middle joint of the toe, potentially leading to severe pressure and pain. Ligaments and tendons that have tightened cause the toe’s joints to curl downwards. Hammertoes 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.
Hammertoes are classified based on the mobility of the toe joints. There are two types – flexible and rigid. In a flexible hammertoe, the joint has the ability to move. This type of hammertoe can be straightened manually. A rigid hammertoe does not have that same ability to move. Movement is very limited and can be extremely painful. This sometimes causes foot movement to become restricted leading to extra stress at the ball-of-the-foot, and possibly causing pain and the development of corns and calluses.
Hammertoes result from a muscle imbalance, which causes the ligaments and tendons to become unnaturally tight. This results in the joint curling downward. Arthritis can also lead to many different forefoot deformities, including hammertoes.
TREATMENT AND PREVENTION
Changing the type of footwear worn is a very important step in the treatment of hammertoes. When choosing a shoe, make sure the toe box (toe area) is high and broad, and can accommodate the hammertoes. A shoe with a high, broad toe box will provide enough room in the forefoot area so that there is less friction against the toes.
Conservative treatments include using orthotics designed to relieve hammertoes, which provides relief to the forefoot.