What are hammertoes, mallet toes and claw toes? Often the words are used interchangeably to mean an abnormally contracted toe like the drawing above. Technically speaking, a "Hammer toes
" is the name for a toe that is contracted at the first toe joint. If it's contracted at the second toe joint it
is called a "mallet toe". IIf a toe is contracted at both toe joints, it is called a "claw toe". Each of these conditions can be quite uncomfortable and are cosmetically unappealing.
Essentially, hammertoes are caused by an abnormal interworking of the bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons that comprise your feet. When muscles fail to work in a balanced manner, the toe joints can
bend to form the hammertoe shape. If they remain in this position for an extended period, the muscles and tendons supporting them tighten and remain in that position. A common factor in development
of hammertoe is wearing shoes that squeeze the toes or high heels that jam the toes into the front of the shoe. Most likely due to these factors, hammertoe occurs much more frequently in women than
People who have painful hammertoes visit their podiatrist because their affected toe is either rubbing on the end their shoe (signaling a contracted flexor tendon), rubbing on the top of their shoe
(signaling a contracted extensor tendon), or rubbing on another toe and causing a painful buildup of thick skin, known as a corn.
Hammer toes may be easily detected through observation. The malformation of the person's toes begin as mild distortions, yet may worsen over time - especially if the factors causing the hammer toes
are not eased or removed. If the condition is paid attention to early
enough, the person's toes may not be permanently damaged and may be treated without having to receive surgical intervention. If the person's toes remain untreated for too long, however the muscles
within the toes might stiffen even more and will require invasive procedures to correct the deformity.
Non Surgical Treatment
Many people start by treating the problem themselves when they have a painful corn or callus. They try to remove the corn by cutting it off or by applying strong acids, and they try to cushion the
toe by applying cushioned pads. Because these treatments can be difficult to perform by oneself (and should never be done by oneself when the patient is diabetic or circulation is poor), and because
these treatments only treat the symptom, not the structural deformity that causes their symptom, these treatments can often provide only limited success, and often any success is for only short
periods of time. Changes in shoe choices and various types of paddings and other appliances may help, too. For longer-lasting help, we must examine the cause of the deformity. The reason for knowing
the cause is that the type of treatment will vary, depending upon the cause of the complaint. Orthotics help control the causes of certain types of contracted toes, (those caused by flexor
stabilization, for example), but not other types.
Your podiatrist may recommend a surgical procedure if your hammertoes are not helped by the conservative care methods listed above. Surgery for hammertoes is performed to help straighten your crooked
toe. Your surgery will be performed in your podiatrist?s office or at a hospital, depending on the severity of your hammertoe. A metal pin is sometimes used to help your affected toe maintain its
straight position during your recovery.