There are two different types of hammertoes. Flexible Hammer Toes. These hammer toes are less serious because they can be diagnosed and treated while still in the developmental stage. They are called flexible hammer toes because they are still moveable at the joint. Rigid Hammer Toes. This variety is more developed and more serious than the flexible condition. Rigid hammer toes Hammer toe can be seen in patients with severe arthritis, for example, or in patients who wait too long to seek professional treatment. The tendons in a rigid hammer toe have become tight, and the joint misaligned and immobile, making surgery the usual course of treatment.
Wearing shoes that squeeze the toes or high heels that jam the toes into the front of the shoe. Other causes or factors in the development of hammertoes can include an injury such as badly stubbing your toe, arthritis and nerve and muscle damage from diseases such as diabetes. And, hammertoes tend to run in families, although it is more likely the faulty foot mechanics that lead to hammertoes that are inherited, not the hammertoes themselves. Hammertoe generally affect the smaller toes of the foot, especially the second toe, which for many people is the longest toe. It’s uncommon for the big toe to be bent this way.
Symptoms of a hammertoe are usually first noticed as a corn on the top of the toe or at the tip which produces pain with walking or wearing tight shoes. Most people feel a corn is due to a skin problem on their toes, which in fact, it is protecting the underlying bone deformity. A corn on the toe is sometimes referred to as a heloma dura or heloma durum, meaning hard corn. This is most common at the level of the affected joint due to continuous friction of the deformity against your shoes.
The treatment options vary with the type and severity of each hammer toe, although identifying the deformity early in its development is important to avoid surgery. Your podiatric physician will examine and X-ray the affected area and recommend a treatment plan specific to your condition.
Non Surgical Treatment
Conservative treatment is the first choice, often starting with a change of shoes to ones that have soft, larger toe spaces. Toe exercises may be prescribed to stretch and strengthen the toe muscles. Over-the-counter straps, cushions or non-medicated corn pads may be recommended to help relieve your symptoms.
Sometimes surgery can not be avoided. If needed, the surgery chosen is decided by whether we are dealing with a flexible or rigid hammer toe. If the surgery is on a flexible hammer toe, it is performed on soft tissue structures like the tendon and or capsule of the flexor hammer toe. Rigid hammer toes need bone surgeries into the joint of the toe to repair it. This bone surgery is called an arthroplasty.
Foot types can be divided into three major groups: the flat foot (Pes Planus), the high arched foot (Pes Valgus) and the normal to low arched foot. A true ‘flat foot’ is very rare. In fact, less than 5% of the population have flat feet i.e. a foot with no arch present whatsoever and the entire bottom surface of the foot being flat on the ground. About 5-10% of people have a high arched foot. The majority of the population have a normal to low arch. Even though the arches appear to be normal most of us suffer from over-pronation during walking, running and standing, due to the hard, flat unnatural surfaces we walk on, combined with wearing unsupportive footwear. With every step we take the arches flatten and the ankles roll inwards. Pronation itself is not wrong because we need to pronate and supinate as part of our natural gait cycle. Pronation (rolling in) acts as a shock-absorbing mechanism and supination (rolling out) helps to propel our feet forward. Over-pronation occurs when the foot pronates too deep and for too long, not allowing the foot to ‘recover’ and supinate. Over-pronation hampers our natural walking pattern. It causes an imbalance and leads to wear and tear in several parts of the body with every step we take.
You do not have to be a runner or athlete to suffer from overpronation. Flat feet can be inherited, and many people suffer from pain on a day-to-day basis. Flat feet can also be traumatic in nature and result from tendon damage over time. Wearing shoes that do not offer enough arch support can also contribute to overpronation.
Common conditions seen with overpronation include heel pain or plantar fasciitis. Achilles tendonopathy. Hallus Valgus and/or bunions. Patellofemoral pain syndrome. Iliotibial band pain syndrome. Low back pain. Shin splints. Stress fractures in the foot or lower leg.
Look at the wear on your shoes and especially running trainers; if you overpronate it’s likely the inside of your shoe will be worn down (or seem crushed if they’re soft shoes) from the extra strain.
Non Surgical Treatment
Podiatrists are trained to effectively detect and management over-pronation. You can get a referral to a podiatrist from your GP if you are presenting with the pain typical of over-pronation, or you can seek private podiatric care in anyone of several registered and accredited practices across the country. Your podiatrist will examine your foot and its shape to determine whether or not over-pronation is the cause of your pain. If your podiatrist determines that it is a problem with arch support that is giving you trouble, then they can effectively remedy that lack of support with orthotics.
Custom-made orthotics will reduce the twisting of the leg muscles as they enter the foot, by maintaining a normal alignment of the bones and joints of the foot. If the bones and joints are aligned properly, by reducing the pronation, the muscles can run straight to their attachments in the foot, without twisting to get to these bones. This action of custom-made orthotics will reduce Achilles Tendonitis shin splints; ankle, knee, hip, and lower back pain; and leg cramps. This action will also allow the leg muscles to work more efficiently, thus allowing you to walk and run with less effort.