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The most common deformity of the second, third or fourth toe is called a hammer toe. The causes, symptoms and treatment are highlighted in an article written by Jenna Fletcher and reviewed by William Morrison, MD. This particular condition can be extremely painful and is often caused by wearing narrow shoes with little to no arch support. There are many treatments available to treat the pain.
This condition has an abnormal bend in its middle joint, making the toe bend downward to look like a hammer. The condition is formed due to an imbalance in the surrounding muscles, tendons or ligaments that normally keep the toe straight. They are flexible to begin with but if not treated promptly, they may become fixed and then will require surgery to correct them.
The muscles, tendons and ligaments work together to bend and straighten the toes. When there is an imbalance in the muscles surrounding the middle toe joint, this causes a hammer toe condition. When one of the muscles weakens, it will not be able to bend or straighten the toe, and if the toe is bent long enough, the muscles tighten and the toe will not be able to straighten on its own. Some of the causes for this condition are avoidable and it is possible to minimize the risk of developing hammer toe such as:
- Wearing certain shoes like high heels or those that are too tight through the box can force toes into a flexed position. If worn repeatedly, the toes can not straighten, even when you are barefooted.
- If a toe is broken, stubbed or jammed, it may be more likely to develop hammer toe.
- If your second toe is longer than the big toe, you are more likely to get hammer toe.
- Certain diseases that people suffer like arthritis or diabetes, are more likely to develop foot problems like hammer toe.
- Sometimes the hammer toe is hereditary and may just run in the family.
Some symptoms of hammer toe would be pain in the affected toe when moving or wearing shoes, corns and callouses on top of the middle joint, swelling, redness or a burning sensation, inability to straighten the toe and in severe cases, open sores might even develop on the toe. During an examination the hammer toe condition is very obvious but some may even order x-rays to further examine the bone structure of the affected foot.
If not treated promptly, the toe joint may become fixed and will require surgery to correct it. Wearing improper footwear for a long period of time and getting the development of hammer toe, the more likely you will require surgery to release the tendons.
Exercises such as picking up marbles with the toe, switching to proper footwear with low heels and a roomy box, gently stretching the toe manually several times a day and using over-the-counter corn pads and foot straps to relieve some of the painful symptoms might help prevent hammer toe. Be sure to choose those low heels with enough toe room with adjustability and proper arch support. Hammer toe can return, so use the exercises and suggestions above to prevent this condition. Don’t our feet and toes deserve some attention, too?
Dr Fredda Branyon