Hammer, mallet, and claw toes have distinctive differences that can assist you in determining what kind of toe problem you are dealing with. All three conditions deal with toes that are curved into
abnormal Hammer toes
positions, which possibly look strange and may cause pain. Typically, the big toe is
not affected by these problems. A Hammer toes
tends to bend downward at the center of a toe joint. It generally
affects your second toe. The affliction causes the center of your toe to rise and is often accompanied with a bony lump.
Hammertoes are usually structural in nature. Many times this is the foot structure you were born with and other factors have now made it so that symptoms appear. The muscles in your foot may become
unbalanced over time, allowing for a deformity of the small bones in each toe. With longstanding deformity the toe may become rigid. Sometimes one toe is longer than another and this causes a
buckling of the digit. A hammertoe may also be caused by other foot deformities such as a bunion. Trauma or other surgery of your foot may predispose you to having the condition if your foot
structure is altered.
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.
First push up on the bottom of the metatarsal head associated with the affected toe and see if the toe straightens out. If it does, then an orthotic could correct the problem, usually with a
metatarsal pad. If the toe does not straighten out when the metatarsal head is pushed up, then that indicates that contracture in the capsule and ligaments (capsule contracts because the joint was in
the wrong position for too long) of the MTP joint has set in and surgery is required. Orthotics are generally required post-surgically.
Non Surgical Treatment
If your hammertoe problem is diagnosed as flexible hammertoe, there are a number of nonsurgical treatments that may be able to straighten out your toe or toes and return them to their proper
alignment. Padding and Taping. Your physician may pad the boney top-part of your hammertoe as a means of relieving pain, and may tape your toes as a way to change their position, correct the muscle
imbalance and relieve the pressure that led to the hammertoe's development. Medication. Anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen can help deal with inflammation, swelling and pain caused
by your hammertoe. Cortisone injections may be prescribed for the same purpose. If your hammertoe is a consequence of arthritis, your physician may prescribe medications for that.
If these treatments are not sufficient at correcting the hammer toe, an operation to straighten the toe may be necessary. This is often performed in conjunction with surgery for a bunion deformity.
The surgical treatment of a hammer toe can consist of either cutting the tendons to relieve the pressure that causes the deformity, or fusing the toe so that it points straight permanently.