If you've ever stubbed your toe, you have probably wondered how something so small can cause so much pain. Toe injuries and conditions can put you in agony. And while some toe pain is unavoidable, like the aforementioned stubbing, there are some conditions that you can prevent if you are proactive.
Hammer toe is a painful toe condition that can be avoided with proper shoe selection and the correct use of hammer toe orthotics.
Hammer toe occurs when the toe bends abnormally at the first joint (interphalangeal) and ends up looking like an upside-down V. The condition most often occurs on the lesser digits – the second through fifth toes.
According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, there are two different types of hammer toes.
Flexible hammer toes – If your smaller toes begin to form a V but you can still move them, you have flexible hammer toe. Go to your physician now. It is important to treat the condition early.
Rigid hammer toes – If you wait too long to see a podiatrist or have severe arthritis, the tendon can become tight. The joint will become permanently misaligned and immobile.
Cleveland Clinic list the symptoms of hammer toes as:
Pain at the abnormal bend of the toe
Corns on the top of the joint
Redness and swelling at the contracture point
Pain in the toe joint and at the ball of the foot
Restriction of movement
Hammer toe develops when there is an imbalance in the muscles surrounding the toes. The muscle instability causes increased pressure on the toe’s tendons and joints, leading to the abnormal bending.
Like many other foot conditions, hammer toe is more common in women than in men, mainly because of shoe choices. High heels will increase the weight on the forefoot and toes. This abnormal distribution of weight will lead to the imbalance of the toe muscles.
The main causes of hammer toes are:
Excessive use of high heels over two inches
Wearing tight shoes that squeeze the toes
Having a second toe that is longer than your big toe
If you develop the condition, you should see a foot specialist as soon as possible. Early treatment can prevent the hammer toe from becoming rigid. To relieve pain and discomfort before your doctor's visit try:
Over-the-counter, non-medicated hammer toe pads
Icing the toes
Exercises such as picking up your towel with your toes to stretch and strengthen the tendons and muscles
When you go to see a podiatrist, she should take an X-ray of the area. Once the severity of the hammer toe is diagnosed, you can begin more serious treatment approaches. These include:
Padding and taping – Like the hammer toe pads, a podiatrist's method of padding will bring comfort to the area and relieve pressure. Taping will keep the foot in its proper alignment.
Anti-inflammatory drugs or cortisone shots – If you have acute pain and severe inflammation, your physician might recommend this treatment plan.
Insoles – Most likely your podiatrist or physician will recommend the use of hammer toe orthotics or insoles. If you have flat feet or high arches and you develop hammer toe, you will benefit from a pair of arch-supporting insoles.
Surgery – As with most treatments of foot pain, surgery is a last resort. The surgeon will remove the bony growth and restore the toe joint to its normal alignment.
The right kind of footwear is key to preventing the development of hammer toes. Wearing shoes that fit correctly and have wide toe boxes can go a long way, but proper footwear won't correct the underlying biomechanical irregularities that cause the condition. However, hammer toe shoe inserts can.
Flat, flexible feet are a main culprit of hammer toes. As your arch over-flattens, your toes will try to stabilize your foot, causing increased pressure on the joints. leading to hammer toes.
High arches are another cause of hammer toes. People with very high arches have imbalances in the different tendons in the toes (extensor and flexor), which can result in hammer toes as well.
Orthotics for hammer toes will correct the biomechanics that lead to hammer toes in people with flat feet and high arches. When your arch has the proper support, no matter the height, your foot is stabilized so your toes aren't doing all the work. That's the key to preventing hammer toes, or slowing their progression if you already have them. In this case, an ounce of prevention truly is worth a pound of cure.
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