Do your toes curl? Maybe you have a pinky toe that’s curved inward or several toes that curl in one direction. Curved or curled toes can signify a common condition known as hammertoes.
What Are Hammertoes?
The term “hammertoe” describes any unnatural curling, buckling, or overlapping of the toes. The condition can involve the joints at the end of the toe, the middle of the toe, or the ball or the foot. Every case is different, and any number of joints may be affected.
The condition is most commonly caused by a tightening of the tendons or a muscle imbalance. Women are affected more often than men, and your risk increases with age. People with long toes and a wide foot are also at an elevated risk.
Types of Hammertoes
There are two types of hammertoes: rigid and flexible. The distinction depends on whether or not (and the extent to which) the toe can be manipulated.
- A Flexible Joint: If you can straighten the toe with your finger, it’s a flexible hammertoe.
- A Rigid Joint: If you cannot move the toe with your finger, it’s a rigid hammertoe. This is usually the more painful of the two conditions, as rigid joints can place excess stress on the ball of the foot, potentially resulting in a callus (a corn on the bottom of the foot).
If left untreated, a flexible hammertoe can become rigid over time.
Your Toes Provide Essential Support
Your toes are not just there for decoration. They provide essential balance and help to propel your body with each step you take. As you place your foot on the ground, the toes bend to grip the floor and keep you standing upright. Then they gently curl to push your foot upward and guide your next stride. But hammertoes can impede these important functions, making movement more difficult and even causing pain and inflammation.
If you notice signs of hammertoes, the first step is to see a podiatrist. With your doctor’s help, even severely curled toes can usually be treated so you can move more easily. It all starts with a thorough examination.
First, the doctor will examine each toe and determine whether the joints are still flexible. They might also look for signs of related conditions that can cause the toes to buckle (or that can result from toes that are already buckling).
For example, corns commonly form between curled toes or above the bucked joints due to friction between the joints and shoes. Over time, corns can become irritated and infected.
In serious cases, the doctor might take X-rays of the curved toes so they can get to the root of the issue and examine the degree of deformity as well as observe any underlying causes or exacerbating conditions (like arthritis, for instance).
If your symptoms are mild (such as a single pinky toe that’s curved inward slightly), changing shoes may be all the treatment you need to address curled toes. You can also use a splint or pad to keep your toes straight.
For more severe cases, your doctor may recommend surgery to correct the buckling. Different types of procedures are commonly recommended for rigid and flexible hammertoes.
After surgery, be sure to follow all doctor recommendations and avoid rigorous activity in the first few weeks.
Most hammertoe procedures are quick and done on an outpatient basis, so you should be able to return to work almost immediately. However, you may be advised to wear a surgical shoe for the first few weeks. In addition, your doctor may recommend a special dressing to minimize swelling and advise you to elevate your foot and use ice packs.
The Proper Shoes Are Essential
Help make surgery a success by wearing orthopedic shoes that fit your feet. You want shoes that are long and wide enough for all your toes to breathe.
Even if you don’t end up needing surgery, wearing the right shoes can make a world of difference. So treat your toes well, and they’ll be good to you in return.