If you suffer from hammertoe, then you know just how uncomfortable and unsightly this condition can be. The discomfort of hammertoe may prohibit you from enjoying many activities. Once your quality of life is affected, it is time to get serious. A reputable orthopedic doctor can help you deal with hammertoe.
What Is Hammertoe?
Hammertoe is a deformity of the second, third or fourth toes. Typically, the affected toe is bent under at the middle joint in the shape of a hammer, hence the name. A related condition, mallet toe, is similar, but the bend occurs at the top toe joint.
With hammertoe, the muscles and ligaments of the toe become imbalanced, which alters the shape of the toe. In early stages, the toe joint remains moveable. If left untreated, hammertoe can result in a fixed, inflexible joint that requires surgery. In addition, painful corns or calluses commonly form on the top and/or end of the toe.
Causes of Hammertoe
Understanding the causes of this foot ailment empowers you to make good decisions. You can avoid the things that exacerbate it, and you can minimize its restrictions on your mobility.
- Poorly fitting shoes: Shoes are the number one culprit. High heels, shoes that are too small, and shoes that are tight in the toe box all misshape the toes. When the feet are pushed and crowded into a too-small space over a long period of time, the toes cannot lie flat.
- Genetics: Hammertoe can be passed down through families. In this case, symptoms appear even if your footwear is roomy and comfortable.
- Toe injuries: Previous fractures or jamming injuries compromise the muscles and tendons of the toe, resulting in the deformity typical of hammertoe.
- Diabetes: The mechanics of your foot are affected by diabetes, which can cause damage to your toe nerves and/or muscles. When this happens, it is called diabetic neuropathy.
- Other Conditions: Joint damage can also be caused by other conditions like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or stroke.
Do You Have Hammertoe?
This condition is fairly easy to diagnose. In most cases, the doctor performs a simple foot exam and asks you questions about your toes. Symptoms include:
- Appearance: Hammertoe results in a hammer- or claw-like appearance of the toe.
- Pain: You may experience mild to severe pain when you move the foot or walk. The level of pain depends on the severity of deformity.
- Mobility: You may have difficulty moving the toe, especially in more advanced cases.
- Other problems: Corns and calluses frequently form as the toe rubs against the inside of your shoe.
When Should You See the Doctor?
As soon as any of the above symptoms arise, you should see a foot specialist. Hammertoe progresses from mild to severe, and early intervention is key. It is even more important to seek medical attention if you suffer from diabetes or poor circulation, which may cause complications.