What Causes Hammertoe and What Are My Treatment Options?

Did you know hammertoes are one of the most common foot deformities? About 7 million American adults have hammertoe — a condition that most often affects the second, third, or fourth toes.

Hammertoe develops with muscle-tendon imbalance in your foot. The imbalance forces your toe to bend downward at its middle joint, making it look like a hammer. The affected toe may rub against shoes or other toes, creating corns or calluses.

Hammertoe can affect one or several toes, and it may become painful. At Manhattan Footcare, Steve Menna, DPM, George Pace, DPM, and our podiatric team specialize in diagnosing and treating hammertoe.

Causes behind hammertoe

Each one of your feet has more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments. These soft tissues connect to bones and help you move your feet and toes, but an imbalance can change the way your foot works.

Imbalance between muscles, tendons, and ligaments is the top cause of hammertoe. When the foot is imbalanced, it pulls your toe into a bent shape. Hammertoe is generally mild at first, but it can progress to the point where your toe can’t straighten at all.

These structural imbalances can develop over time, as the result of wearing tight shoes, trauma, or chronic health conditions like arthritis. Some people are predisposed to developing hammertoe. The condition may be hereditary, and your risk of hammertoe may be greater if your second toe is longer than your big toe.

Treatments for hammertoe

Hammertoes don’t go away on their own, and they often get worse over time. Ignoring early signs of a hammertoe could mean foot complications later on, so it’s important to visit the podiatrist if you notice any changes in the way your feet look or feel.

Conservative hammertoe treatments

Mild hammertoe can be managed with nonsurgical treatments. Depending on your diagnosis, Dr. Menna and Dr. Pace may recommend adjusting your footwear to take stress off toes. Toe exercises can build strength and help rebalance muscles to minimize hammertoe symptoms.

Finding shoes with roomy toe boxes helps minimize excess pressure on toes. You may benefit from shoe inserts or pads that cushion toes, and our team also offers custom orthotics to give you optimal foot support.

Hammertoe surgery

More severe cases of hammertoe may not respond to conservative treatments. Rigid hammertoes that don't straighten even if you press on them, pain, or an open sore as the result of toes rubbing together are all signs that you could benefit from hammertoe surgery.

Hammertoe surgery is an outpatient procedure. Dr. Menna and Dr. Pace identify and release the tendon that’s causing your hammertoe, so the toe can return to a natural position. The surgery entails removing a small piece of bone from the toe, also known as arthroplasty.

You can go home the same day, but plan to spend a few days resting after your surgery. While every case is different, most people recover fully from hammertoe surgery within a few weeks.

Find comprehensive hammertoe care at Manhattan Footcare. Call the office nearest you or request your first appointment online today.

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