What is a Hammer Toe?

A hammer toe is a contracture, or bending, of the toe at the first joint of the digit, called the proximal interphalangeal joint. 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. Hammer toes are more common in females than males.

There are two different types:

Flexible Hammer Toes: These hammer toes are less serious because they can be diagnosed and treated while still in the developmental stage. They are called flexible hammer toes because they are still moveable at the joint.

Rigid Hammer Toes: This variety is more developed and more serious than the flexible condition. Rigid hammer toes can be seen in patients with severe arthritis, for example, or in patients who wait too long to seek professional treatment. The tendons in a rigid hammer toe have become tight, and the joint misaligned and immobile, making surgery the usual course of treatment.

Causes

A hammer toe develops because of 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 hammer toe. Arthritis is another factor, because the balance around the toe in people with arthritis is disrupted. Wearing shoes that are too tight and cause the toes to squeeze can also cause a hammer toe to form.

Symptoms

The symptoms of a hammer toe include the following:

  • Pain at the top of the bent toe upon pressure from footwear
  • 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

When to Visit a Podiatrist

If pain persists, see a podiatrist. If left untreated, hammer toes tend to become rigid, making non-surgical treatment less of an option.

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