Largo Foot and Ankle Health Center
1450 Mercantile Lane
Upper Marlboro, MD 20774
Hammertoes: Pain Of the Small Toes
A hammertoe is a contracture or bending of one or both joints of any but the big toe. This bending causes the toe to appear like an upside-down V when looked at from the side. Any toe can be involved, but the condition usually affects the second through fifth toes, known as the lesser digits. Hammertoes are more common in females than males.
- Pain upon pressure at the top of the bent toe from footwear.
- The formation of corns on the top of the joint.
- Redness and swelling at the joint contracture.
- Restricted or painful motion of the toe joint.
- Pain in the ball of the foot at the base of the affected toe.
A hammertoe is formed due to an abnormal balance of the muscles in the toes. This abnormal balance causes increased pressures on the tendons and joints of the toe, leading to its contracture. Heredity and trauma can also lead to the formation of a hammertoe.
Arthritis is another factor, because the balance around the toe in people with arthritis is so disrupted that a hammertoe may develop. Wearing shoes that are too tight and cause the toes to squeeze can also be cause for a hammertoe to form.
What Can You Do For Relief?
- Apply a commercial, non-medicated hammertoe pad around the bony prominence of the hammertoe. This will decrease pressure on the area.
- Wear a shoe with a deep toe box.
- If the hammertoe becomes inflamed and painful, apply ice packs several times a day to reduce swelling.
- Avoid heels more than two inches tall.
- A loose-fitting pair of shoes can also help protect the foot while reducing pressure on the affected toe, making walking a little easier until a visit to your podiatrist can be arranged.
- Avoid wearing shoes that are too tight or narrow. Children should have their shoes properly fitted on a regular basis, as their feet can often outgrow their shoes rapidly.
- See your podiatric physician if pain persists.
Treatment options include changing footwear, padding the corns and calluses that form, trimming the corns and calluses, custom orthotic footwear or devices, anti-inflammatory medications and splinting the affected toe. Surgery is recommended in some severe cases.
The treatment options vary with the type and severity of each hammertoe, although identifying the deformity early in its development is important to avoid surgery. Podiatric medical attention should be sought at the first indication of pain and discomfort because, if left untreated, hammertoes tend to become rigid, making a nonsurgical treatment less of an option.
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