What Are Hammertoes and How Can They Be Treated

WHAT ARE HAMMERTOES?

In general, the term "hammertoe" describes a buckling of any of the toe joints. Joints at the end or middle of the toe, as well as the joint near the ball of the foot, may be affected. Toe joints usually curl because of a muscle imbalance or tight tendons. Hammertoes vary in severity and in the number of joints and toes involved.

Problems With Your Little Toes

Your little toes help to balance and propel your body when you move. As your foot flattens, the little toes bend to grip the ground. Then they straighten acting like levers to help push your foot so you can walk, run, or dance. But if the front of your foot is wide, you may develop a problem known as hammertoe. Hammertoes are little toes that buckle or curl under. Over time, these toes may hurt and make movement more difficult. But you don�t have to live with pain. With your doctor�s help, even severe hammertoes can usually be treated so you can move more easily.

Physical Exam

Your doctor will examine all your toes, testing whether or not buckled joints can be moved. Your feet will also be checked for any skin changes. Corns (a buildup of dead skin cells) often form between curled toes or on top of bucked joints where shoes rub. If irritated, corns may turn into open wounds and become infected.

Testing

X-rays may be taken of a curled toe to show the amount of deformity. An x-ray may also show whether or not the joint is affected by arthritis.

Types of HammerToes

Hammertoes may be flexible or rigid, depending on the joint�s ability to move. A flexible joint may become more rigid as you age.

  • A Flexible Joint-- Your can straighten a flexible hammertoe with your fingers. Although they look painful, flexible hammertoes may not hurt.

  • A Rigid Joint-- A rigid hammertoe cannot be moved, even with the fingers. Rigid joints may cause pain and distort foot movement. This may put extra stress on the ball of the foot, causing a callus (a corn on the bottom of the foot).
TREATING HAMMERTOES

If your symptoms are mild, changing shoes may be all the treatment you need. Using a splint or pad to hold your toes straight also may help. Or try cushioning corns and calluses with felt padding. If your symptoms are severe, surgery may be needed. The type of procedure often depends on whether your toe joints are flexible or rigid.

AFTER SURGERY

Almost all hammertoe surgeries are out-patient procedures. In fact, you may even be able to bear weight on your foot by the time you go home. For best results, however, you may need to wear a surgical shoe for several weeks.

The First Few Weeks

Your foot will be bandaged after surgery, and you may need to wear a surgical shoe to support the foot during healing. Your doctor may recommend a special dressing to limit swelling. Elevation and ice can also help. For best results, raise your foot above heart level and apply ice for 15 to 20 minutes. Protect your skin by placing a towel between the ice pack and your skin.

Proper Shoes

Help make surgery a success by wearing shoes that fit your feet. Shoes should be long enough and wide enough to keep all your toes comfortable.

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