The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Hammertoes! What are They and What Should You Do About Them?

Posted by on Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

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There are so many injuries and deformities that can happen to your feet (after all, feet: you wear them every day). Some of them you may know about, some may be less familiar. In this blog, I hope to try to cover as many as possible so you’ll be able to recognize and understand what’s going on with your feet.

And that brings us to today’s topic: Hammertoes! (The exclamation point is there because you have to have an exclamation point when the word “hammer” is involved.)

Whenever I hear the word hammertoe, I always find myself thinking, “Isn’t that a type of shark?” But no–it is a deformity where a person’s toes curl under, giving them the appearance of a claw hammer.

Causes Hammertoes are caused by an imbalance between the muscles and tendons around the toe joint that allows the toe to bend and then remain in that position. Although genetics can play a role in causing hammertoes, the most common cause is poorly fitting shoes that force the toes into an unnatural position. Hammertoes may have some flexibility initially, allowing for easier forms of treatment, but overtime they can become rigid and then will require surgery.

Why should you care? For one thing, they’re really unattractive. If you like sitting by a gorgeous pool, feeling glamorous, then you do not want to have hammertoes. You don’t want to have someone’s gaze travel down your sexy legs only to find feet that look like claws at the end of them. The rest of you better be pretty amazing to overcome that kind of surprise.

Of course, even if you are saying to yourself, “I am not a shallow person who cares about things like how my toes look and I would never be caught lounging poolside hoping someone will check out my sexy legs,” you still need to worry about your hammertoes. The friction from hammertoes rubbing against the inside of your shoes and your other toes will cause pain, corns, and calluses. If you have diabetes or poor circulation, you should be especially concerned about any sign of hammertoes (as you should about any foot issues).

Remedies If your hammertoes are caught early enough, there are a number of steps a doctor can take to get them back to normal and reduce the irritation and pain.

  • Change your shoes! This is the obvious way to help your toes relax back into position if they still have some flexibility. Trade your super stilettos with the pointy toes and get some shoes with a square or round toe box and a low heel. I know, you’re thinking, “But I only like shoes with pointy toes and super high heels!” Okay, do you also like having dragon claw toes and red, ugly corns and calluses? I didn’t think so. Take a break, wear the low heeled shoes that allow your toes some wiggle room (or at least some “lay flat” room). Eventually your toes will relax back into a normal position. You shouldn’t ever go back to pointy toed shoes, but if you insist you must have heel height (despite all the evidence out there that you should not have it), there are plenty of stylish high heeled shoes out there with square, round, or open toes.
  • Orthotics Your podiatrist may recommend putting an orthotic into your shoe that will help manage the muscle and tendon issue that allowed your toe to overcurl in the first place.
  • Splints/Straps Hammertoes can be corrected by using a splint or small straps to force your toes back into shape. Of course don’t try this yourself–have your podiatrist do it the right way.
  • Injections/medication Steroidal injections and oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (ibuprofen, acetaminophen) can reduce the pain and inflammation from hammertoes.
  • Padding If you have painful calluses or corns from hammertoes, you can protect them from further irritation with small pads. You can get them over the counter, but your podiatrist will be able to get ones that fit and stay on better.

If your toes have become completely rigid, then you’ll need surgery. Try to avoid this by checking with a podiatrist as soon as you see signs of hammertoes–the earlier you attack this problem, the easier it will be to solve it.

For help with hammertoes, or any other foot issue, contact us at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, and Dr. Ryan Minara have helped thousands of people get back on their feet.

 

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.