A hammertoe is a deformity that occurs when a toe is permanently bent downward or sideways. The affected toe (often the toe next to the big toe) has an unnatural bend in the middle joint. The biggest cause of hammertoes is wearing high heels or shoes that are too tight in the toe box. These types of shoes crowd the toes together, pushing up toes to create space. Over time, toes that have been crowded can become permanently stiff. This is because the tendons have contracted and tightened after being persistently crowded over a period of time. Hammertoes do not lie flat, even when barefoot, and can cause pain or discomfort. An unnatural bend in the joint nearest the toenail is called mallet toe, and has the same symptoms, prevention, and treatment as hammertoe.
Prevention of Hammertoes
Hammertoes are most commonly found in women, and are often easily prevented simply by shoe choice. Contrary to the old adage where style trumps comfort, there are many stylish shoes that are good choices in foot health available on the market today. While shopping, try on shoes at the end of the day to accommodate any swelling that might have occurred throughout the course of the day. If shoes feel too tight, or pinch the toes, either try the next size up or move to another pair. Look for a roomy toe box which will not squeeze the toes together. Stretchable fabric uppers are always a smart choice, since they “give”, allowing toes to sit in a natural position throughout the day. If high heels are unavoidable, choose shoes with a heel that is lower than one inch. This will minimize the action of pushing the toes forward, crowding them.
Hammertoe Treatment Options
While prevention is obviously preferred, in the real world hammertoes do develop, and require treatment. If you are affected by a hammertoe and are experiencing pain or loss of mobility, there are treatment options that greatly diminish the symptoms. The first step is to change your shoes! Ditch the high heels and the shoes that are squeezing your toes, and opt for shoes that are both stylish and comfortable. Your toes will thank you. If the thought of letting go of your favorite shoes is too much to handle, try shoe stretchers, which easily create a roomier toe box, alleviating the pain of hammertoes. There are also an assortment of toe straighteners, toe splints and pads available to treat hammertoes. If your hammertoe is severe, surgery may be necessary. Please discuss this option with your podiatrist.
Hammertoes are a relatively simple foot issue to deal with, and those suffering from hammertoes generally have success with a change in shoe choice as well as at-home treatment options.