Contracted Toes

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HammertoeOverview

The term, Hammer toes is used to describe the collective physical deformity of the second, third and fourth toe on a person's foot when they are permanently bent at one or two of their joints, often times at their middle joints or, 'proximal interphalangeal,' joints. The condition is also referred to as, 'contracted toes,' and earned its name for the resulting bowed appearance of the toes that made them appear similar to hammers. The distortion of the usual contour of the person's toes is usually a result of wearing shoes that are too short or narrow and apply consistent pressure to the toes, forcing them to be pushed together and lie obliquely. The situation is particularly true in the case of shoes that are designed to narrow towards the toe box.

Causes

As described above, the main reason people develop hammertoes is improper footwear, or footwear that is too short for the toes. Shoes that do not allow our toes to lie flat are the biggest cause of hammertoes, though there are others, including genetics, injury or trauma in which the toe is jammed or broken. Diseases that affect the nerves and muscles, such as arthritis. Abnormal foot mechanics due to nerve or muscle damage, causing an imbalance of the flexor and extensor tendons of the toe. Systematic diseases such as arthritis can also lead to problems such as hammertoe. Some people are born with hammertoes, while others are more prone to developing the condition due to genetics. If you have ever broken a toe, you know there is not much that can be done for it. It is one of the only bones in the body that heals without the use of a cast. A broken toe may be splinted, however, which may help prevent a hammertoe from forming.

HammertoeSymptoms

The most obvious symptom of hammertoe is the bent, hammer-like or claw-like appearance of one or more of your toes. Typically, the proximal joint of a toe will be bending upward and the distal joint will be bending downward. In some cases, both joints may bend downward, causing the toes to curl under the foot. In the variation of mallet toe, only the distal joint bends downward. Other symptoms may include Pain and stiffness during movement of the toe, Painful corns on the tops of the toe or toes from rubbing against the top of the shoe's toe box, Painful calluses on the bottoms of the toe or toes, Pain on the bottom of the ball of the foot, Redness and swelling at the joints. If you have any of these symptoms, especially the hammer shape, pain or stiffness in a toe or toes, you should consider consulting your physician. Even if you're not significantly bothered by some of these symptoms, the severity of a hammertoe can become worse over time and should be treated as soon as possible. Up to a point hammertoes can be treated without surgery and should be taken care of before they pass that point. After that, surgery may be the only solution.

Diagnosis

Your healthcare provider will examine your foot, checking for redness, swelling, corns, and calluses. Your provider will also measure the flexibility of your toes and test how much feeling you have in your toes. You may have blood tests to check for arthritis, diabetes, and infection.

Non Surgical Treatment

Apply a commercial, nonmedicated hammertoe pad around the bony prominence of the hammertoe. This will decrease pressure on the area. Wear a shoe with a deep toe box. If the hammertoe becomes inflamed and painful, apply ice packs several times a day to reduce swelling. Avoid heels more than two inches tall. A loose-fitting pair of shoes can also help hammertoe protect the foot while reducing pressure on the affected toe, making walking a little easier until a visit to your podiatrist can be arranged. It is important to remember that, while this treatment will make the hammertoe feel better, it does not cure the condition. A trip to the podiatric physician?s office will be necessary to repair the toe to allow for normal foot function. Avoid wearing shoes that are too tight or narrow. Children should have their shoes properly fitted on a regular basis, as their feet can often outgrow their shoes rapidly. See your podiatric physician if pain persists.

Surgical Treatment

If conservative treatments fail and your symptoms persist, the doctor may recommend a surgical option to straighten the toe. The procedures used vary greatly, depending upon the reasons for the hammertoe. There are a number of different operations to correct hammertoes, the most common ones involve Soft tissue corrections such as tendon transfers, tendon lengthening, and joint capsule repairs. Digital arthroplasty involves removal of bone from the bent joint to allow the toe to straighten. The temporary use of pins or K-wires may be necessary to keep the toe straight during the healing period. Joint implants are sometimes used to allow for a better range of motion in the toe following surgery. Digital arthrodesis involves the removal of bone from the bent joint and fusing the toe in a straight position. If the corn is due to a bone spur, the most common procedure used is an exostectomy, in which surgically removing it or filing it down removes the bone spur. Because of the possible complications involved with any surgery, one should be sure to understand the risks that may be involved with surgery to correct hammertoes and remove bone spurs.

HammertoePrevention

Although the feet naturally change over time, and abnormalities like hammertoes may be hereditary for some patients, steps may be taken to prevent their development in the first place. Just as better fitting shoes are a treatment, they are also a preventative measure for hammertoes. In addition, your podiatrist may suggest orthotics to improve the biomechanics of your feet in an effort to prevent the development of hammertoes or other abnormalities. Calf stretching and other exercises may also be used to reverse or treat muscle imbalances that could eventually lead to hammertoe development.

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