A hammertoe is a bending or buckling of the toe at the middle joint. As the problem increases, the toe becomes prominent on the top of the foot and blistering or callusing may develop on the middle knuckle. In the most extreme cases an ulcer will develop. Patients with diabetes or circulatory problems should call a doctor if they are showing signs of hammer toes.
Hammertoes are a result of tightened muscles in the toes. When a toe muscle tightens, the toe cannot lie flat causing it to stay in a fixed position. There are several things which can cause hammertoes.
Wearing tight shoes or high heels with a small toe box after time will cause the muscles in your toes to stiffen. Hammertoes can also be the result of a muscle imbalance caused by diabetes or other neuromuscular conditions. Hammertoes occur on all the digits (toes), but of particular nuisance are those on the little toe. Hammertoes on the little toe can cause not only a painful callus on top of the toe, but often a soft callus between the little toe and the fourth toe. These can be very tender, especially when wearing shoes.
Conservative treatment involves accommodating the bent toe with extra depth shoes, corn pads, and other devices designed to straighten the toe. Many patients come into the podiatrist’s office periodically to have the callus/corn professionally trimmed. Unfortunately, this treatment is rarely permanent, and the callus/corn soon returns.
Surgery may be an option for patients whose corns return quickly after trimming, or for those who don’t get any pain relief from trimming or padding the area. Also, patients with diabetes or circulation problems may benefit from surgical correction to prevent more serious complications.
Hammertoe surgery is a minor procedure and can often be performed in the office. Patients are usually walking within two days and often able to wear their own shoes within a week.