Hammertoe is a type of foot deformity that results in the bending of the second, third, fourth or little toe. A network of soft tissue (ligaments, muscles and tendons) holds the toes straight in a normal, healthy foot. Trauma or external factors such as choosing poor-fitting or tight shoes may cause hammertoe or mallet toe. When there is an imbalance in the muscles and tendons in your toe, over time this may cause the toe to bend abnormally.
The condition is evident by a visible bend in the middle joint of the toe. Hammertoe may be painful and cause discomfort when moving the toe. Other painful problems such as corns and calluses may result from the toe rubbing your other toes or the inside of your shoe.
Shoe inserts or a change in footwear might help alleviate the symptoms. In more serious or advanced cases of hammertoe, surgery may be an option.
Your foot and ankle doctor will evaluate the problem and will also look at the shoes that you commonly wear. High heels or especially tight shoes may begin hammertoe or cause it to worsen. Stubbing or jamming your toe could also cause hammertoe or cause an existing condition to worsen. Women and older patients are at a greater risk for hammertoe. If your second toe is longer than your big toe, this may also put you at an increased risk.
Your physician will likely prescribe a change in footwear to allow more spacing, in addition to custom orthotic devices that a specialist will design for your foot. Corticosteroid injections may also help symptoms along with a regimen of anti-inflammatory medication.
If your hammertoe has become more rigid, surgery may be necessary to correct the condition.
Allowing adequate room in the toe box if your shoe is an important step to avoiding or correcting hammertoe. Also avoid heels or pointy-toed shoes. Go to a footwear specialist at the end of the day for a proper fitting, as your feet tend to swell throughout the day.