A hammertoe is a toe that has an irregular, permanent bend in the joint, in some instances causing the toe to resemble a hammer. Often painful or difficult to move, hammertoes may affect a single toe or all of the four lesser toes (toes that have two hinge joints).
The most common cause of hammertoes is poorly fitting footwear. Footwear that is too tight at the toes or has an excessive heel height that forces the toes to be crushed into the toe box of the shoe will cause hammertoes to form over time. Hammertoes are frequently seen in conjunction with bunions, as ill-fitting footwear also causes bunions to develop on the big toe.
There are a number of treatment options for hammertoes.
Braces – over the counter soft hammertoe cushions or braces can help to reduce pain and decrease pressure on the tops of the toes inside the shoes. A hammertoe cushion has soft padding under the foot and an elastic piece that the toe fits into so the wearer can adjust the resistance against the toe.
Footwear – investing in properly fitted footwear is paramount to reducing pressure on the affected toe and ensuring it doesn’t get worse. A deeper, wider toe box will reduce stress on the joints and top of the toes. To ensure you are getting a proper fitting pair of shoes, make sure you visit a footwear professional who measures both of your feet with a Brannock device.
Physiotherapy – in mild cases, a strengthening and stretching program can help reduce areas of discomfort and minimize the deformity from worsening.
Orthotics – custom made foot orthotics can help reduce pressure points and areas of discomfort and also help the foot fit more efficiently into footwear.
Surgery – in more severe cases, surgical intervention may be required to reduce pain and discomfort in the affected area.
If you have hammertoes, check with your family physician or book in an assessment appointment with a Certified Canadian Pedorthist to explore all of your treatment options.
By Steve Stredulinsky C. Ped (C) Calgary, Alberta