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Hammertoes - Causes And Cures

Updated on February 15, 2011

Hammertoes are about about as pleasant as they sound.  The worst part about this annoying foot condition is that it sneaks up on you...  By the time you know you have a hammertoe, it's often too late to prevent the painful symptoms.  In this article, we'll take a comprehensive look at this condition.  After reading the piece below, you'll have the knowledge and tools to prevent and treat hammertoes.

What Is A Hammertoe?

A hammertoe is a specific type of deformity that affects the toe.  The deformed toe appears curled - leading to the larger of the two toe knuckles pushing up.  It looks somewhat like the little hammers that are found inside of a piano.  This condition is usually caused by two things:  A dropped metatarsal head and a tightening of the tendons in the affected toe.  As the knobby head of the metatarsal bone drops and the tendons around it tighten, the knuckle inevitably rises.  More often than not, the middle toes are prone to this kind of injury.  A rarer condition, known as mallet toe, sees the smaller of the two knuckles rise.

Causes Of Hammertoes

So what actually causes the conditions that lead to hammertoes?  While injuries sometimes play a role, hammertoes are usually hereditary.  Like many common foot problems, faulty biomechanics are often to blame for this.  Exceptionally high arches that don't pronate enough or a long second toe often contribute to the development of a hammertoe.

This problem is made worse when inappropriate footwear is worn.  Hammertoes develop slowly, you see.  The pain really ramps up when the knuckle rises high enough to hit the inside of your shoe.  If you can stop the problem before it gets this bad, you'll stop a lot of the pain as well.  Choose a pair of shoes that aren't too small.  Also, look for something with a lot of toe room.

Hammertoes And Pain

The deformed toe in and of itself isn't actually that painful.  It's the conditions that the hammertoe causes that hurt like hell.  The most common ones people deal with are corns and calluses.  These are a direct result of the fact that your knuckle is now rubbing against the roof of your shoe.  Both corns and calluses are signs that your skin is trying to protect itself from the persistent friction between itself and the shoe.

A more serious side effect of hammertoes is related to gait.  Gait essentially refers to the way one walks.  Hammertoes have a way of changing the way a person walks.  This can lead to all sorts of unpleasant problems with the lower legs and back.

Treating Hammertoes

Getting rid of hammertoes isn't easy.  Fortunately, it's not always necessary to do so.  If you catch the problem before it gets too serious, changing footwear can often be enough to avoid the pain mentioned above.  Again, look for something that fits!  Small toe boxes and narrow shoe bodies aren't a good idea if you're trying to keep your feet healthy.  You can also try using a toe straightener to fix the crooked toe.  The best ones are made by Pedifix.  They're like $5 each so you really have nothing to lose.

If the simple hammertoe home remedies outlined above don't work, you'll need to consider surgery.  Known as a tenotomy, this procedure is performed by both podiatrists and orthopedic surgeons.  It basically involves lengthening the tightened tendons responsible for the curled toe.  Uncurling the toes allows them to rest flat.  In more severe cases, bits of bone may also need to be chipped away in order to see the toe uncurled.

After successful treatment, steps need to be taken to prevent the hammertoe from returning.  This often means a set of orthotic inserts should be used.


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