Hammertoe, which primarily affects the second, third, and fourth toes, is a condition in which a toe bends downward in the shape of a hammer. The deformity may be mild at first, but it typically worsens over time.
If left untreated, hammertoe can lead to pain when walking. Affected toes are also prone to developing corns and calluses, which can cause pain when you’re wearing shoes.
At Apple Podiatry Group, with offices in Arlington, Irving, Fort Worth, and Flower Mound, Texas, podiatrists Jarna Rathod-Bhatt, DPM, and Rahul Bhatt, DPM, can diagnose and treat hammertoe at any stage of development.
Here’s what causes hammertoe and how you can manage the condition.
A toe can develop hammertoe over time or have it from birth. Usually the toe starts to bend in an unnatural downward position due to an imbalance in the ligaments, muscles, and tendons that normally keep the toe straight.
When one of these muscles weakens, it loses the ability to bend or straighten the toe. If it remains bent long enough, the muscles can tighten, and the toe can stay bent.
The condition can make you self-conscious when you’re barefoot or in sandals, but it can also cause pain. This deformity can cause muscle imbalances, chronic stress on other areas of your feet and toes, and make it hard to wear shoes.
Causes of hammertoe
Hammertoe sometimes occurs after a traumatic toe injury, such as a toe fracture. More often, the condition develops over time as a result of other factors. You can have a higher risk of developing hammertoe due to the following:
You wear certain shoes
Wearing shoes with heels higher than two inches can increase your risk of developing hammertoe. This is because shoes like these increase the weight on the forefoot and toes, which can lead to an imbalance of the toe muscles.
Over time, these types of shoes — including shoes that have narrow toe boxes that cramp the toes — can cause your toes to get stuck in a hammertoe position, even when you’re not wearing the shoes. Women are more likely to develop hammertoe than men, most likely because they tend to wear shoes with smaller toe boxes.
You have a genetic predisposition
Flat, flexible feet are more likely to develop hammertoe. This is because you may curl your toes to try to stabilize your foot due to the flat arch, and this may cause your toes to eventually get stuck in that position.
Furthermore, if you have feet with high arches or a second toe that is longer than your big toe, you may also have a higher chance of developing this deformity.
You have certain health issues
Hammertoe is more likely to strike people with certain conditions, such as arthritis, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, polio, spinal cord tumors, and stroke. People with bunions sometimes develop hammertoe, too.
Making small changes in your footwear habits and foot care can reduce your chances of developing hammertoe. Our podiatrists suggest:
- Limiting your use of high heels and shoes with narrow toe boxes
- Wearing orthotic shoe inserts to offset the effects of abnormally low or high arches
- Stretching and bending your toes to keep them flexible
- Seeking treatment for bunions or toe trauma
- Following recommended treatments for joint diseases, such as arthritis
Of course, if your hammertoe is the result of a traumatic injury, management and treatment are your next step.
Hammertoe usually gets worse over time, so it’s always best to seek treatment as early as possible. Certain treatments may be able to halt or slow the condition’s progression and help you avoid complications. Treatments may include any of the following:
- Modifying your footwear
- Exercising your toes
- Stretching your foot muscles
- Wearing custom orthotics
- Wearing a padded boot
- Using a splint
In patients with advanced hammertoe and rigid toes, surgery may be the best option. Surgical techniques include tendon transfers, bone fusion, or joint sections.
If you’re concerned about hammertoe, we can help. To learn more, book an appointment online or over the phone with Apple Podiatry Group today.